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, you soak a rag in an inhalant and press the rag to your mouth.
  • Sniffing. To sniff an inhalant, you sniff or snort fumes from an aerosol container.
  • Bagging. To bag an inhalant, you inhale fumes from a product sprayed or poured into a plastic or paper bag.

Huffing, sniffing or bagging 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 the United States alone, nearly 10 percent of adolescents age 12 and older have used inhalants at some point, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

What are the risks of inhalant abuse?

The initial euphoria of huffing, sniffing or bagging may 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. 12, 2012 See more In-depth