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There are a lot of drugs that people think of when abuse or addiction is brought up, and most of them are pretty recognizable, like crack, crystal meth, and opioids. While these are dangerous, they’re also relatively difficult for many younger individuals to get. There is an entire category of drugs that are abused that are already present in so many homes in the US, and they devastate countless lives with the physical and mental damage they bring.

These drugs are known as inhalants and can be just about any hazardous or dangerous chemical product you have in your home, workshop, or garage. If you’ve ever heard the term “sniffing glue,” you’ve encountered a term for using inhalants that have been around for many decades. Sniffing glue was the origin of huffing, which is why the inhalant category of drugs is so popular with much younger individuals prone to substance abuse. They can be found almost anywhere.

What Is Huffing?

Huffing is used for deliberately concentrating and inhaling dangerous fumes from many different sources. Using products commonly found around the home and garage or easily obtained from a store, an individual will inhale the fumes produced by the product to get high. The intoxication is not long-lasting, but it’s not very quick either, and it can usually be obtained with minimal effort and money. Although inhalant is cheaper for people to get high, it’s also one of the most dangerous and likely to result in permanent disability.

Products like nail polish remover, paint remover, lighter fluid, gasoline, aerosol products like spray paints and air fresheners, and even cleaning products are used for huffing. While in areas where huffing is popular, it is commonly done by children or other younger individuals, sometimes even adults find themselves trapped in the cycle of addiction to huffing chemical fumes from inhalants.

Common Types Of Inhalants Used In Huffing

One popular category of inhalants is those with volatile organic compounds or other volatile solvents. These are liquids that boil and evaporate at room temperature and are found in products such as:

  • Engine degreasers
  • Dry-cleaning chemicals
  • Typist correction fluid
  • Felt-tip markers & permanent markers
  • Gasoline
  • Paint thinners
  • Glues

Another category that is similar to those with volatile solvents in them is pressurized gasses. These are used to refill some lighters or even in some medical applications. The gases include:

  • Butane
  • Chloroform
  • Ether
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Propane
  • Commercial refrigerants

One final category of inhalants can be found in aerosols, primarily non-toxic products with some propellant in the can. These products include:

  • Spray deodorant
  • Fabric treatment or protection sprays
  • Hair sprays
  • Cooking sprays
  • Spray paints

All three categories are known to have products and chemicals in them that create a significant effect on the body, particularly the central nervous system. This allows them to give the person huffing them a psychoactive effect of either a mind-altering or mood-altering variety. In many cases, the individuals huffing simply become very relaxed and sedated.

There is another group of inhalants, however, that affect the body differently. They are called nitrites, and they primarily work by dilating blood vessels and allowing muscles to relax. These inhalants were mainly known as “poppers” and were misused and abused by those seeking enhancement to their sexual experiences. Few of these are available anywhere since most major governments largely banned their marketing and use. Some products in your home that may still be able to be abused could be labeled and sold as “liquid aroma,” “room odorizer,” and “cleaner” for both video heads and leather products.

What Are The Side-Effects & Risks of Huffing?

One of the biggest risks to huffing is that it is incredibly hard to monitor for and to stop since the products that can be abused as inhalants are everywhere in the home and outside of it. This means that huffing is more accessible to younger kids who may not have access to other substances, leading to them being used by younger kids even more than teenagers.

Once someone is caught in the addiction trap of huffing, however, even if it started in childhood, it can last well into adulthood and even into old age. The National Institute on Drug Abuse data shows that huffing activity usually peaks in 8th grade.

The other primary risks are to the health of the huffing individual. In most cases, the fumes are contained in something, so they can be concentrated before inhalation. The methods of concentration differ, but the aim is always the same, intense effect and potential concealment. Common ways that people will contain their inhalants include:

  • Spraying cans directly into the mouth or airway
  • Spraying paint or placing other chemicals in a bag to hold them for inhalation
  • Sniffing the fumes directly from the containers
  • Huffing the fumes from a rag that has been soaked in the chemicals and then held over the nose and mouth
  • Filling a balloon with the chemical from a pressurized source, then inhaling from the balloon later

Common Side-Effects Of Huffing

No matter what the chemical is that the individual is huffing, there will often be a relatively consistent list of side-effects that people huffing will experience. While someone addicted to huffing may not experience all these symptoms, they will likely experience many at one point. These side-effects include:

  • Feelings of apathy or amotivational syndrome
  • Belligerent behavior
  • Diminished reflex activity
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, lethargy
  • Euphoria
  • Significant impairments to physical function and movement coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Deep stupor or unresponsive staring

Higher dosages or huffing some dangerous chemicals can also result in extreme confusion, delirium, and paranoia. This can lead to hostility or aggression. In addition, if the individual has been abusing inhalants for many years, there may be physical brain damage to the impulse control areas of the brain, which may or may not heal.

The Most Dangerous Side-Effects Of Huffing

When users are actively huffing or using inhalants, they are at risk for several immediate effects that can be either desirable or undesirable. Once the user starts huffing, the intoxication will begin just a few seconds after inhalation but will only last for a few minutes. The intense feelings that disappear quickly are the main drivers of how often people use inhalants.

When someone is huffing chemical fumes, they can create significant effects of intoxication, such as immediate loss of coordination, reduction in the ability to speak or speak intelligibly, feelings of euphoria, sudden dizziness, or lightheadedness. In some cases, the user can experience convincing delusions and vivid hallucinations that can last for several minutes or longer. 

Many of the feelings produced by huffing are due to the brain not getting enough oxygen and entering a state of hypoxia. Even if the user is breathing normally, inhaling chemical fumes replaces the oxygen in their blood with those fumes, preventing their brain and body from getting enough oxygenated blood. 

The long-term effects are still being studied but can include large amounts of damage to nearly every bodily system. The organs suffer significant damage from lack of oxygen and constant intake of chemical fumes, particularly the liver and kidneys, which will be instrumental in filtering out the inhaled gases from the blood. In some situations, the damage to the liver and kidneys can be reversed, but in more serious cases, the damage may be permanent.

How To Know If You Are Addicted To Huffing

A primary indication that someone is addicted to huffing is the shift in time they devote to it. If someone is spending noticeably larger amounts of time huffing, getting inhalants to huff, or recovering from huffing, then it may be relatively likely that they have an addiction to huffing.

Another indicator that someone has developed an addiction to huffing is an increased amount of isolation. If you or someone you know has begun isolating themselves more and more lately, they may have developed an addiction, and professional help may be the best option.

Huffing Addiction Treatment Options: How To Get The Help You Deserve

If you have developed an addiction to huffing, it can be embarrassing, and seeking help can feel awful, but it’s also the best thing to do to help you conquer your addiction for good. By reaching out to an addiction professional today, you can begin the process of detoxing and withdrawals in a safe, clean, upscale environment, where you can lay the foundation for future recovery. Working with a professional to ensure your detox stage is completed in safety and comfort is one of the biggest steps you can take to start your recovery off right.

Sources:

  1. Baydala L. Inhalant abuse. Paediatr Child Health. 2010;15(7):443-448.
  2. Alliance for Consumer Education. Data & Research | Alliance for Consumer Education. Accessed August 28, 2022. https://www.consumered.org/programs/inhalant-abuse-prevention/data-research

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed August 28, 2022