Solvents Inhalants - Rehab Guide
solvent abuse

Solvents Inhalants

Solvent Inhalants; The facts and effects

Whether it’s glue or gasoline, inhalants are legal, normal, and ‘safe.’ After all, preschoolers use glue. Parents pump gas into their cars to get to work. However, the effects of solvent abuse are serious. In the short term, children could pass out or experience confusion and nausea.

In the long term, brain and kidney damage are possible. Not to mention addiction, nerve damage, liver damage, and impaired muscular function.

The ‘danger zone’ for solvent abuse typically lands between the ages of 14-15. Because inhalants can be common household products, though, children as young as 5 years old have abused them.

What Are inhalants?

Inhalants are everywhere. Unlike cocaine or cigarettes, children don’t need to hang out with ‘bad influences.’ They don’t need to go to school or meet someone on the street.

Instead, they can do some ‘huffing’ in their own home by having access to a bewildering array of inhalants.

  • Hairspray
  • Glue
  • Duster spray
  • Permanent and dry erase markers
  • Laughing gas
  • Nail polish remover
  • Rubber cement
  • Paint thinner or remover

The easiest type of inhalants is those that become solvent at room temperature. This makes them easy to sniff.

Slang Terms for Inhalants

Inhalant abuse versus solvent abuse—are they different? No. There are lots of terms for it.

If you’re trying to stay alert, there are lots of slang terms for inhalants. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to this practice as solvent abuse.

Here are some common street terms for solvents themselves:

  • Glue
  • Whippets (used to refer to the nitrous oxide that comes from whipped cream cans)
  • Texas shoeshine
  • Poppers
  • Snappers
  • Hippie crack
  • Moon gas
  • Poor man’s pot
  • Discorama

There are other slang terms for the act of using solvents:

  • Bagging
  • Dusting
  • Huffing
  • Snorting
  • Sniffing
  • Ballooning

While these may be casually used interchangeably, each one refers to a different method of use.

Bagging refers to inhaling after a substance has been put in a bag.

Dusting, a method easily used with hairspray, is spraying aerosols into the mouth.

Huffing means a user pours the substance over a washcloth and holds it over their face.

Snorting is breathing in a solvent through the mouth.

Sniffing is just that—inhaling through the nose.

Ballooning is inhaling balloon gases.

These different methods are how users get high from inhalants.

Who Abuses Inhalants?

Anyone can abuse solvents. However, studies have found that homeless children and teens, particularly those with no family influences or ties, are at a drastically high risk of abusing solvents.

Many teen users don’t need a reason. However, situations such as stress, loneliness, anger, or difficult family circumstances often provoke the abuse of substances. This also includes solvents.

If you’re trying to identify signs of solvent abuse in another person, here are some solvent abuse effects on the body:

  • Perpetual runny nose and cough
  • Dilated pupils
  • Watery eyes
  • Constant fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood swings, extreme irritability, or unprecedented anger issues
  • Rash, blisters, stains, or sores on the face, particularly around the mouth
  • Appetite loss, which can manifest as nausea, vomiting, or weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Paint stains on clothing
  • Dishevelled, drunken appearance
  • Anxiety
  • Red eyes

If you’re noting multiple signs in your child, it’s time to intervene.

Where are inhalant products found?

There are four different classes of solvents.

  • Aerosols
  • Gases
  • Nitrates
  • Solvents

Aerosols are easy to find in the home or garage. Whether your teen uses Mom’s hairspray, the air freshener from their car, or abuses their brother’s aerosolized deodorant, the options are limitless.

For the average teen, gases might be a little harder to find. Computer cleaning spray, the type that may be found in a home office, are more common. Nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas and used for dental procedures) is another choice.

In an effort to reduce teenage solvent abuse, nitrites have been outlawed. However, they’re still available illegally. Other inhalants usually act on the nervous system. On the contrary, nitrites are used to enhance sexual performance since they dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles.

They come in many forms. Solvent abuse can occur with deodorant, gasoline, paint thinner, dry erase markers, nail polish remover … they’re a dime a dozen.

Inhalants are easy to abuse because they are mostly legal. Gasoline, markers, and hairspray are common items that won’t arouse any suspicion.

What Is Solvent Abuse?

There are two categories of the dangers of solvent abuse: short-term and long-term. Short-term effects often provide clues to identify a problem, which can help speed up the intervention process.

Here are short-term solvent abuse effects:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Temporary muscle weakness
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Nausea, vomiting, and weight loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Fainting
  • Disorientation
  • Convulsions

These short-term symptoms can often lead to bigger health concerns down the road. Intervention is key, but remember that just like any other substance abuse, withdrawal, and recovery will be difficult.

Withdrawal symptoms will manifest, which is why professional help is crucial. If you don’t intervene, long-term results will occur.

The long-term effects of solvent abuse include:

  • Coma
  • Developmental delays
  • Vision and memory loss
  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Muscle damage  and deterioration
  • Learning delays
  • Coordination losses
  • Muscle and limb spasms
  • Personality changes
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Heart failure
  • Organ failure

Because a solvent high is over so quickly, it’s easy to turn into a long-term habit.

Solvent Abuse Kills

Of course, as with any substance abuse, there is always the risk of death. This can happen whether a teen has inhaled solvents once or a dozen times.

One of the most common fatality causes is called ‘sudden sniffing death.’ When inhalants enter the body, the heart can respond negatively. In this case, the heartbeat speeds up dramatically and beats irrhythmically. Then, it stops—cardiac arrest results.

Asphyxia can also occur. The body relies on enough oxygen in the lungs to fuel crucial processes. When enough fumes and too little oxygen are in the lungs, a user can stop breathing.

Similar to alcohol and other drugs, users can also choke or inhale their own vomit and die.

A primary method of solvent abuse is bagging. As any parent knows, plastic bags are a primary cause of suffocation.

Solvent abuse can kill because suicide is also a risk. Solvent abuse is often due to difficult life situations, such as abuse or poverty. These underlying circumstances, plus the feeling when the high wears off, can drive users to take their own lives.

Other risks include injuries. The appeal of solvent use is the high feeling, which influences the street name, ‘poor man’s pot.’ When influenced by substances, decision-making skills are at an all-time low. Reckless activities can result in injuries.

Burns or explosions can also occur if there’s a spark. The most common inhalants, such as gasoline or hairspray, are highly flammable. If a spark, which can be as simple as someone smoking a cigarette close by, can combine with these aerosols and start a fire.

What Now?

If you catch someone inhaling solvents, there are some important steps. Your actions, just like knowing CPR, can make all the difference between someone’s full recovery.

Of course, the first step is to stay calm. When you’re calm, you can make rational decisions more easily. This is also important for the user.

The most important thing is to eliminate stress from the occasion. Given the circumstances, this may seem impossible! But stress + inhalants = cardiac arrest, which can lead to solvent abuse death.

Depending on the exact nature of the situation, get medical help immediately. If the user’s symptoms are mild or nonexistent, contact NHS 111.

After the initial crisis is over, start investigating treatment options. Shepherding your teen through withdrawal and recovery will be challenging for everyone, but there are many addiction resources available for solvent abuse help.

Staying Proactive

It’s easy to write it off—that’s not my kid! However, no one assumes that it will be ‘their kid.’ Staying ahead of the curve will help keep your child safe.

One of the best methods of preventing solvent abuse is education. This starts once children are old enough to walk.

There are safe ways to use household products, and there are unsafe ways. Demonstrate the difference between the two. As children are older, start discussing the dangers of inhalants in age-appropriate ways, such as solvent abuse examples.

Discuss inhalants the same way you would educate them about safe sex or avoiding drugs.

Of course, education only goes so far. You’ll also need to be proactive. If your hairspray bottle keeps disappearing, or you can’t seem to keep track of the dry-erase markers, that could point to inhalant abuse.

Avoiding Solvent Abuse

In today’s world, pitfalls are everywhere for children. It seems like a very unsafe world, and it is important that you should know the warning signs and behaviours to watch for.  Take the time to educate yourself and your teens.

Keeping an eye out and establishing a strong support system will help prevent this. If you’re looking for solvent abuse help, contact us today. 

Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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