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Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs
Facts about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs / Matrix of commonly abused drugs


Inhalant use refers to intentional breathing of gas or vapors with the purpose of reaching a high. Inhalants are legal, everyday products which have a useful purpose, but can be misused. The term "inhalants" refers to more than a thousand different household and commercial products that can be intentionally abused by sniffing or "huffing" (inhaling through one's mouth). These products are composed of volatile solvents and substances commonly found in commercial adhesives, lighter fluids, cleaning solutions and paint products. Their easy accessibility, low cost, and ease of concealment make inhalants, for many, one of the first substances abused, with typical first use occurring between late childhood and early adolescence. Users are also at risk for heart failure, called Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD) syndrome.

There is a common link between inhalant use and problems in school, failing grades, chronic absences and general apathy. Inhalant users also tend to be disruptive, deviant, or delinquent as a result of the early onset of use, the user's lack of physical and emotional maturation, and the physical consequences that occur from extended use.

Inhalants fall into the following categories:


  • Industrial or household solvents or solvent-containing products, including paint thinners or solvents, degreasers, gasoline, and glues

  • Art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip-marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaners


  • Gases use in household or commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases

  • Household aerosol propellants and associated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, and fabric protector sprays

  • Medical anesthetic gases, such as either, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas)


  • Aliphatic nitrites, including cyclohexyl nitrite, which is available to the general public; amyl nitrite, which is available only by prescription; and butyl nitrite, which is now an illegal substance


Indicators of inhalant abuse may include:

  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing

  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes

  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing

  • Drunk, dazed, or disoriented appearance

  • Slurred speech

  • Nausea or loss of appetite

  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression

  • Spots or sores around the mouth

  • Red or runny eyes or nose

  • Missing household items

Prevalence of Use


The following sites can provide you with more information on inhalant abuse., a website of The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has information specific to inhalants.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) develops educational resources and materials on drugs of abuse.

The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) web-site includes a list of products abused as inhalants, what to do if someone is huffing, and strategies for teachers to use to talk to students about inhalants.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Office of Applied Studies (OAS) provides the latest national data on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug abuse.

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