Inhalant abuse, also known as huffing, is unusual in that it is most common among younger adolescents and tends to decline as teens age. This may be due to the fact that inhalants are typically legal household items that are easy to access. However, teen inhalant use has been declining among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders since 2006, after a peak in the mid-1990s.
Inhalants are chemical vapors or fumes that produce a mind-altering effect when inhaled. They are referred to as inhalants because they are rarely, if ever, taken by any route other than inhalation. Categories of inhalants are volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites. These chemicals are found in hundreds of common household or industrial products, including glue, nail polish remover, gasoline, solvents, butane, and propellants used in some commercial products, such as whipped cream dispensers.
Inhalants can be breathed in via sniffing or snorting directly from containers; spraying aerosols into the nose or mouth; “bagging” (inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or deposited inside a plastic or paper bag); “huffing” from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth; and inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide. Moreover, because an inhalant high lasts only a few minutes, abusers often repeat their use over the course of several hours. Subsequently, this can lead to loss of consciousness and even death, as a result of cardiac arrest or suffocation.
Symptoms of inhalant abuse resemble those of alcohol intoxication, beginning with a rapid high and a decrease in inhibitions. Furthermore, other inhalant abuse symptoms are drowsiness, dizziness, tingling in the hands and feet, slurred speech, numbness, lack of coordination, increased heart rate, and impaired judgment. In addition, over the long term, inhalant abuse can cause hearing loss, brain and nervous system damage, and liver and kidney disorders.
Sources: Monitoring the Future Survey, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration