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How to Identify Inhalant Abuse

Sure, inhalant users are often referred to as glue sniffers, but identifying inhalant use isn’t just about looking for glue. Inhalants are so difficult to wrap our heads around because the drug category is made up of hundreds of possible household products.

How can you tell if someone is abusing inhalants or try to remove the inhalants from their life when so many common items can be inhaled to get high?

Because of their availability and the relative silence of the media and educators when it comes to inhalant use, inhalants are actually pretty easy to use and abuse.

Unfortunately, most users aren’t aware of the dangers associated with inhalant use. They can damage your brain and your body, and they can do it as early as the first time they are used. They literally change the way your brain works and they pose many risks for your body as well. They can even lead to death.

How do you know if someone close to you is using inhalants? What are the signs to look for?

If you are struggling with the suspicion that someone you love is using or abusing inhalants and you want to speak with experts, call at 800-256-3490. We can connect you with resources, answer questions, and link you to rehabilitation options. You don’t have to struggle with this alone.

Inhalant Types

Identify Inhalant Abuse

Teen users tend to abuse easily accessible inhalants such as glue or spray paint.

OK, a lot of drugs can be inhaled. Cocaine is a prime example. But, the word “inhalants” only applies to drugs that are taken through inhalation alone. They literally cannot be used any other way.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies the following categories of inhalants: Volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites.

Liquids that vaporize at room temperature are considered volatile solvents. These often take the form of industrial products, household products, art supplies, or office supplies. For example, paint thinners or removers, gasoline, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, and lighter fluid are all volatile solvents. The same is true of correction fluids, electronic contact cleaners, and felt-tip marker fluid. Glue is also a volatile solvent.

Sprays that contain propellants and thinners are considered aerosols. These can usually be found around the house. For example, sprays used to paint, style hair, apply deodorant, protect fabric, clean computers and electronics, and oil pans are all types of aerosol.

Gases are also common among household or commercial products. But, medical anesthetics— ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)—are particularly prized. Other gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, whippets (whipped cream aerosols or dispensers), and refrigerant gases.

Nitrites are a class of inhalants most often used to enhance sex. The most common forms are organic nitrites—cyclohexyl, butyl, and amyl nitrites. These are often called poppers.

One thing that all inhalants have in common is that they all function as psychoactives. That means that they all alter the user’s mind.


Age is a factor in inhalant preference. Generally, younger users gravitate toward more easily accessible inhalants. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • New users (12–15) typically abuse glue, lighter fluid, spray paints, gasoline, and shoe polish.
  • New users (16–17) typically abuse nitrous oxide or whippets.
  • Adults typically abuse nitrites.

Signs of Use

If you suspect your loved one is using inhalants, the most obvious clue will possession of inhalants they have no use for. For example, dry cleaning fluids aren’t a common household product. VCR head cleaner shouldn’t be in the possession of someone without a VCR. Although, since inhalants are so commonly household items, this isn’t conclusive.

In addition, keep an eye out for:

  • Slurred speech
  • Spots and/or sores around the mouth
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Breath that smells of chemicals
  • Stumbling or acting drunk
  • Loss of appetite and/or nausea

If they are chronic users, you may notice anxiety, edginess, or restlessness.

Lastly, The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recognizes the following warning signs. Does the suspected user:

  • Sit with a pen or marker near their nose?
  • Constantly smell their sleeves?
  • Have paint or stain marks on their face, fingers, or clothing?
  • Hide rags, clothes, or empty containers of inhalants?

If these symptoms are familiar and you would like to get help for your loved one, contact Our helpline 800-256-3490 and get the help you deserve.

Why Inhalants are so Dangerous

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