Inhalant dependence



What are inhalants?

Inhalants are chemicals – not drugs. They are toxic to your body and brain. Inhalants are rapidly absorbed by your lungs when you inhale, and quickly taken by the bloodstream directly to your brain. The user feels intoxicated within minutes, like when drinking alcohol. The effect last a short period of time. Users often take repeated sniffs, to continue the high feeling for prolonged periods.

Warning:  Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome

Inhalants can kill you instantly the 1st time you sniff by stopping your heart beat.

Fast facts:

  • More than 90% of parents do not know that their children are sniffing on products in their own homes.
  • Street children are not the only ones sniffing inhalants – it is becoming a dangerous practice among teens of all ages and across social classes.
  • A recent study in the US revealed shocking results. According to the study about 1.1 million 12 – 17 year olds admitted to using inhalants last year.
  • In the USA, about 600 000 teens start using inhalants every year.
  • A study revealed that teens did not believe sniffing inhalants were as dangerous as taking illegal drugs.
  • 22% of inhalant abusers who died of Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome had no history of previous inhalant abuse—they were first-time users.
  • In Nairobi, Kenya, an estimated 60,000 children live on the streets and almost all are addicted to some sort of inhalant.
  • Inhaling chemicals is also called ‘huffing”.

Why do people take drugs?

  • To fit in
  • To escape or relax
  • To relieve boredom
  • To seem grown up
  • To rebel
  • To experiment

What are the different types of inhalants?

Inhalants can be classified into the following groups:


Volatile solvents

paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaner


Butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
Anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide


Spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray


Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds, often sold as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma” when marketed for illicit use.



What are the side effects of inhalants?

The worst most deadly side-effect :


Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome:
A person can die the first time, or any time, they try an Inhalant. This is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. While it can occur with many types of Inhalants, it is particularly associated with the abuse of air conditioning coolant, butane, propane, electronics and the chemicals in some aerosol products. Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome is usually associated with cardiac arrest. The Inhalant causes the heart to beat rapidly and erratically, resulting in cardiac arrest.

Other side-effects are:

  • shortness of breath
  • bad headaches
  • runny nose
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • slurred speech
  • double vision
  • hallucinations
  • lack of concentration
  • lung &  kidney disease
  • permanent brain damage

Poppers” and “whippets,” sold at concerts and dance clubs, are composed of poisonous chemicals that can permanently damage the body and brain.

Drug detection times

Please use these figures as a guide only:

Alcohol: 3-5 days in urine, 10-12 hours in blood
Amphetamines: 1-3 days in urine and around 12 hours in blood
Barbiturates: 2-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Benzodiazepines: 3-6 weeks in urine and 2-3 days in blood
Cannabis: 7-30 days in urine and up to 2 weeks in blood
Cocaine: 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Codeine: 1 day in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
Heroin: 3-4 days in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
LSD: 1-3 days in urine and up to 2-3 hours in blood
MDMA (ecstasy): 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Methamphetamine (crystal meth): 3-6 days in urine and 24 – 72 hours in blood
Methadone: 3-4 days in urine and 24-36 hours in blood
Morphine: 2-3 days in urine and 6-8 hours in blood

Get help

Know the signs

Because they are often common household products, it isn’t easy to pick up if someone is abusing inhalants.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Depression
  • Drunk or dazed behaviour
  • Red or runny nose
  • Watery, red eyes
  • Chemical breath odour
  • Nosebleeds
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Irritability, anxiety or restlessness
  • Hiding objects such as hair spray or pieces of cloth

How can you help?

  • Speak about the dangers of inhalant abuse to your child
  • Be aware of products that can be abused
  • Keep an eye on all potentially dangerous products in your home
  • If you suspect someone is abusing inhalants, encourage the person to seek professional help


emerIf the substance is inhaled many times or a particularly strong inhalant is used, it could cause an overdose. If a person has the following symptoms, they need immediate emergency care:
• Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
• Irregular heartbeat
• Chest pain
• Hallucinations
• Blackout, seizures and coma


If you need help or more information, please talk to a counsellor on our Helpline: LIVE CHAT.

The service is text-based and you may remain anonymous.



You can also do a self-test quiz on addiction to learn more about addiction – Substance abuse quiz.




Comments are closed.