Inhalant abuse: Is your child at risk?

Would you know if your teen were huffing? Consider the telltale signs of inhalant abuse — and what you can do to prevent it.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

What's so dangerous about a can of spray paint or deodorant? Plenty.

Huffing these and other common household products can provide a quick high. As harmless as it might seem to kids, the risks of huffing and other types of inhalant abuse are real — and potentially lethal.

What are inhalants?

Many ordinary household products can serve as inhalants, including:

  • Hair spray
  • Room deodorizer
  • Cooking spray
  • Correction fluid
  • Glue
  • Rubber cement
  • Paint thinner
  • Cigarette lighters

What does it mean to huff an inhalant?

Huffing is sometimes used as a generic term for any type of inhalant abuse. Specifically, however, there are various ways to abuse inhalants, including:

  • Huffing. To huff an inhalant, a rag is soaked in an inhalant and pressed to the mouth.
  • Sniffing or snorting. In this form of abuse, fumes are sniffed or snorted directly from an aerosol container.
  • Bagging. To bag an inhalant, fumes are sprayed or poured into a plastic or paper bag and inhaled.
  • Spraying. In this form of abuse, the aerosol is sprayed directly into the nose or mouth.
  • Inhaling. In this form of abuse, nitrous oxide is inhaled from a balloon.

Huffing causes a sense of euphoria that lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. For many kids, inhalants provide a cheap and accessible alternative to alcohol — and it might happen more often than you think. In fact, inhalants are often the first option for young children who use drugs.

What are the risks of inhalant abuse?

The initial euphoria of huffing might be followed by dizziness, slurred speech, and loss of coordination, inhibition and control. Hallucinations and delusions are possible.

If an inhalant causes the heart to begin working too hard, a rapid, irregular heartbeat (dysrhythmia) could trigger lethal heart failure — even for first-time inhalers. Chronic inhalant abuse can cause serious liver and kidney damage. Permanent brain damage, hearing loss and coordination problems are possible as well.

Other devastating effects of inhalant abuse might include suffocation, seizures, loss of consciousness and death.

Jan. 31, 2015 See more In-depth