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What Does ‘Huffing Drugs’ Mean?

Huffing drugs is the act of inhaling chemicals to achieve a high. Commonly huffed substances include:

  • Aerosol sprays
  • Glue
  • Cleaning fluid
  • Paint
  • Paint thinner
  • Amyl nitrite
  • Nail polish remover
  • Lighter fuel

Huffing puts people at risk of developing permanent mental or physical damage. This practice starves the body of oxygen and causes an increase in heart rate. Other less threatening but harmful effects include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Nausea
  • Loss of the smell
  • Damage to the organs

Long-term huffing negatively affects muscle strength, tone, and mass. It also affects a person’s ability to think, talk, and act normally. All of this occurs when the toxic fumes ingested through the nose damage brain tissue.

Some people call huffing “snorting,” “sniffing,” or “bagging.” What it’s called varies based on whether the substance is taken in via the nose or mouth.

Common Types of Inhalant Substances 

Most of the substances used for huffing are legal household products that can be purchased at grocery, hardware, and other stores. Many people have these products in their homes. This is why huffing is so common among adolescents. Instead of buying illegal or prescription drugs, they’re able to get high using common household products.

There are more than 1000 specific products abused as inhalants. Most of them fall into one of four categories:

Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are found in: 

  • Paint thinner
  • Paint remover
  • Degreasers
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Glues
  • Rubber cement
  • Nail polish remover
  • Dry cleaning fluid
  • Correction fluids/Whiteout
  • Felt tip pens/markers

Aerosols

Aerosols are found in: 

  • Hair spray
  • Spray paint
  • Spray deodorant
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • Fabric protector spray

Gases

Gases are found in: 

  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
  • Halothane
  • Chloroform 

These gases are found in whipped cream dispensers, propane tanks, butane lighters, and refrigerants. 

Nitrites

Nitrites are found in: 

  • Cyclohexyl nitrite
  • Amyl nitrite
  • Butyl nitrate
  • Room deodorizers
  • Leather cleaners

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Why Do People Huff Drugs?

Huffing depresses the central nervous system (CNS), producing euphoric feelings. The effect is similar to what one experiences when drinking alcohol or using barbiturates.

In addition to the sensations huffing creates, people huff drugs because of easy access to these substances. Most of them are legal and found in most households. Some people also assume that huffing is risk-free.

Signs Your Child or Teen is Huffing Drugs

Huffing is most common among teens. Since young people cannot buy alcohol and other drugs, they turn to huffing because of easy and free access to the substances in their homes.

Signs your child or teen is huffing include:

  • Clothing or breath smells of chemicals
  • Stains on hands, fingers, and clothing
  • Behavioral changes
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sudden change in friends and hobbies
  • Decline in school performance
  • Runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Fatigue
  • Irritation or ulcers in the mouth and nose
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

Risks & Dangers of Huffing Substances

Some inhalant users assume huffing isn’t dangerous because it involves legal, household items. This isn’t true. Using inhalants is dangerous. 

The effects of huffing pose many short- and long-term risks and dangers including:

Short-Term Effects

These include:

  • Euphoria
  • Slurred speech
  • Light-headedness
  • Loss of muscle control and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intoxication
  • Severe mood swings
  • Impaired judgment
  • Aggression
  • Stupor
  • Death
  • Lethargy

Long-Term Effects 

These include:

  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart problems
  • Bone damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Heart problems
  • Oxygen depletion
  • Coma
  • Death

Brain damage caused by huffing is usually permanent. Problems associated with huffing and inhaling occur because substances accumulate in the brain. 

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Can Someone Overdose on Inhalants?

Yes. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma

Deaths linked to huffing occur from:

  • Sudden sniffing death from the impact of chemicals on the cardiac system leading to heart failure and death.
  • Suffocation when inhalants are inhaled by “bagging,” which is when they spray a substance into a plastic bag and put it over their head.
  • Seizures occur when inhalants disturb the brain’s electrical system.
  • Asphyxiation, when chemicals eat up oxygen in the air breathed, causes carbon dioxide buildup and inadequate oxygenation of the body.
  • Choking that occurs when huffing triggers nausea and vomiting after someone loses consciousness.
  • Accidents which occur because huffing impairs judgment

Symptoms of Inhalant Use & Addiction

Someone addicted to huffing displays the following symptoms:

  • Intoxication
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Chemical odors
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Irritability

Additionally, symptoms often associated with addiction arise. These include:

  • Forgoing once-loved activities in favor of huffing
  • Spending a lot of time and money acquiring substances to huff
  • Neglecting friends, family, school, and other responsibilities
  • Failing to give up huffing even when there is a desire to do so

Treatment Options for Inhalant Use 

Like all substance use issues, treatment is available for huffing. Teens and other people who  use inhalants to get high benefit from a variety of different treatment options. 

In some cases, emergency medical attention is needed for someone who has overdosed on a chemical.

Non-emergency treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which includes learning how to better handle stressful situations and cope with cravings without turning to substances
  • 12-step or peer support groups, which brings together other people struggling with addiction to discuss their challenges and successes
  • Family therapy, which focuses on improved communication among family members who play an important role in someone’s recovery from addiction
  • Relapse prevention, which involves long-term follow-up care
  • Motivational therapy, which helps the addicted person find internal motivation to change
  • Activity programs, which help addicted people develop skills and enjoy experiences unrelated to huffing

Most people benefit from a combination of more than one of these treatments. This also reduces their risk of relapse and increases their chance of full recovery.

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Resources

MORE
LESS

Inhalant Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic.

Inhalant Abuse: Is Your Child at Risk?” Mayo Clinic, 2018.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Inhalants.” Drugabuse.gov, 2018.

Primer: A Parent’s Guide to Inhalant Abuse - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center.” www.urmc.rochester.edu.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Use?” Drugabuse.gov, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Other Medical Consequences of Inhalant Abuse?” National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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