National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week
This year, National Inhalants and Poisons Prevention Week takes place the week of March 20-26 and aims to shed light on this pressing matter.
“Just a single session of repeated inhalations can cause permanent organ damage or death,” according to National Institute on Drug Abuse Acting Deputy Director Dr. David Shurtleff.
“Most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication. Given the wide availability of these substances and the severe health consequences they can produce, inhalant abuse is a serious problem.” 
What are Inhalants?
- Volatile Solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. They are found in a multitude of inexpensive, easily available products used for common household and industrial purposes. These include paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids, and felt-tip markers.
- Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.
- Gases include medical anesthetics as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Medical anesthetics include ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”). Nitrous oxide is the most abused of these gases and can be found in whipped cream dispensers and products that boost octane levels in racing cars. Other household or commercial products containing gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerants.
- Nitrites often are considered a special class of inhalants. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the central nervous system (CNS), nitrites act primarily to dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. While other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite. Amyl nitrite is used in certain diagnostic procedures and was prescribed in the past to treat some patients for heart pain. Nitrites now are prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission but can still be found, sold in small bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”
Generally, inhalant abusers will abuse any available substance. However, effects produced by individual inhalants vary, and some users will go out of their way to obtain their favorite inhalant. For example, in certain parts of the country, “Texas shoeshine,” a shoe-shining spray containing the chemical toluene, is a local favorite. 
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What Are Inhalants? Are Inhalants Addictive?
“What’s truly shocking is that more people don’t know how dangerous this addiction actually is. We’re trying to raise the alarm and educate the public to prevent more tragedies!” – Ryan Zofay, Founder of We Level Up Personal Development.
National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week raise alertness on drug addiction prevention. People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes through their nose or mouth, usually by sniffing, snorting, bagging, or huffing. Although the high that inhalants produce usually lasts just a few minutes, people often try to make it last by continuing to inhale again and again over several hours.
Most inhalants affect the central nervous system and slow down brain activity. Short-term effects are similar to alcohol effects and include:
- Slurred or distorted speech
- Lack of coordination (control of body movement)
- Euphoria (feeling high)
People may also feel light-headed or have hallucinations (images/sensations that seem real but aren’t) or delusions (false beliefs). With repeated inhalations, many people feel less self-conscious and less in control. Some may start vomiting, feel drowsy for several hours, or have a headache that lasts a while.
Unlike other types of inhalants, nitrites, which are often prescribed to treat chest pain, are misused in order to improve sexual pleasure by expanding and relaxing blood vessels.
What are Poisons?
Hazards of Chemicals Found in Commonly Abused Inhalants
Amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite
(“poppers,” “video head cleaner”)
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome
- Suppressed immunologic function
- Injury to red blood cells (interfering with oxygen supply to vital tissues)
(found in gasoline)
- Bone marrow injury
- Impaired immunologic function
- Increased risk of leukemia
- Reproductive system toxicity
(found in lighter fluid, hair and paint sprays)
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome via cardiac effects
- Serious burn injuries (because of flammability)
(used as a refrigerant and aerosol propellant)
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome
- Respiratory obstruction and death (from sudden cooling/cold injury to airways)
- Liver damage
(found in paint thinners and removers, degreasers)
- Reduction of oxygen-carrying capacity of blood
- Changes to the heart muscle and heartbeat
Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”), Hexane
- Death from lack of oxygen to the brain
- Altered perception
- Motor coordination
- Loss of sensation
- Limb spasms
- Blackouts caused by blood pressure changes
- Depression of heart muscle functioning
(found in gasoline, paint thinners and removers, correction fluid)
- Brain damage (loss of brain tissue mass, impaired cognition, gait disturbance, loss of coordination, loss of equilibrium, limb spasms, hearing and vision loss)
- Liver and kidney damage
(found in spot removers, degreasers)
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Reproductive complications
- Hearing and vision damage
Nitrites are abused mainly by older adolescents and adults. Typically, individuals who abuse nitrites are seeking to enhance sexual function and pleasure. Research shows that abuse of these drugs in this context is associated with unsafe sexual practices that greatly increase the risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. 
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Dangers of Inhalants and Poisons
National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week educate people about the dangers and how inhalants affect us when misused. Although the chemical substances found in inhalants may produce various pharmacological effects, most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication, with initial excitation followed by drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation. If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce anesthesia — a loss of sensation — and can lead to unconsciousness.
The chemicals found in solvents, aerosol sprays, and gases can produce a variety of additional effects during or shortly after use. These effects are related to inhalant intoxication and may include belligerence, apathy, impaired judgment, and impaired functioning in work or social situations; nausea and vomiting are other common side effects.
A strong need to continue using inhalants has been reported by many individuals, particularly those who have abused inhalants for prolonged periods over many days. Compulsive use and mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse.
A recent survey of 43,000 American adults suggests that inhalant users, on average, initiate use of cigarettes, alcohol, and almost all other drugs at younger ages and display a higher lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders, including abuse of prescription drugs, when compared with substance abusers without a history of inhalant use.
Inhalant abusers risk an array of other devastating medical consequences. The highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can induce irregular and rapid heart rhythms and lead to fatal heart failure within minutes of a session of prolonged sniffing. This syndrome, known as “sudden sniffing death,” can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy young person. Sudden sniffing death is associated particularly with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols. Inhalant abuse also can cause death by—
- Asphyxiation — from repeated inhalations that lead to high concentrations of inhaled fumes, which displace available oxygen in the lungs;
- Suffocation — from blocking air from entering the lungs when inhaling fumes from a plastic bag placed over the head;
- Convulsions or seizures — from abnormal electrical discharges in the brain;
- Coma — from the brain shutting down all but the most vital functions;
- Choking — from inhalation of vomit after inhalant use; or
- Fatal injury — from accidents, including motor vehicle fatalities, suffered while intoxicated.
Based on independent studies performed over a 10-year period in three different states, the number of inhalant-related fatalities in the United States is approximately 100–200 per year.
The neurotoxic effects of prolonged inhalant abuse include neurological syndromes that reflect damage to parts of the brain involved in controlling cognition, movement, vision, and hearing. Cognitive abnormalities can range from mild impairment to severe dementia.
Inhalants also are highly toxic to other organs. Chronic exposure can produce significant damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Although some inhalant-induced damage to the nervous and other organ systems may be at least partially reversible when inhalant abuse is stopped, many syndromes caused by repeated or prolonged abuse are irreversible.
Abuse of inhalants during pregnancy also may place infants and children at increased risk of developmental harm. On National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week, if we suspect someone is suffering from inhalant abuse, it’s best to seek help immediately.
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Warning Signs of Inhalant Addiction
Early identification and intervention are the best ways to stop inhalant abuse before it causes serious health consequences. Learn the tips on how to recognize these signs on National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week. Parents, educators, family physicians, and other health care practitioners should be alert to the following signs:
- 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 or disoriented appearance
- Slurred speech
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression
Inhalation Poisoning Symptoms
Because the high passes quickly, many users will inhale the substance repeatedly, putting themselves at risk of overdose, oxygen deprivation, and sudden death. Someone overdosing on inhalants may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
Inhalant use has the potential to be fatal. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that as many as 200 people die from inhalant abuse each year. 
Long-term effects of inhalant use may also include:
- Liver and kidney damage
- Hearing loss
- Bone marrow damage
- Loss of coordination and limb spasms (from nerve damage)
- Delayed behavioral development (from brain problems)
- Brain damage (from cut-off oxygen flow to the brain)
In addition, because nitrites are misused for sexual pleasure and performance, they can lead to unsafe sexual practices or other risky behavior. This increases the chance of getting or spreading infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.
Drug Abuse Issue
Although it’s not very common, repeated use of inhalants can lead to addiction, a form of substance use disorder (SUD). The government also imposes this issue during National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week. SUD develops when continued use of the drug causes issues, such as health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. SUD can range from mild to severe, the most severe form being addiction.
Those who try to quit inhalants may have withdrawal symptoms that include:
- Loss of appetite
- Problems sleeping
- Mood changes
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Treatment for Substance Abuse
Because inhalant overdose can lead to seizures or cause the heart to stop, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions. They will try to stop the seizure or restart the heart.
Some people seeking drug addiction treatment for use of inhalants have found behavioral therapy to be helpful:
- Detoxification: Usually, the first step is to purify your body of drugs and manage withdrawal symptoms.
- Behavioral Counseling: The individual, group, and/or family therapy can help you identify the root causes of your drug use, restore your relationships, and learn healthier coping skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to use drugs.
- Medication: Medications are helpful to manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse, or treat any co-occurring mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
- Long-Term Follow-Up: This process can help to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety. This may include attending regular in-person support groups or online meetings to help keep your recovery on track.
For more information about how you can notice and prevent inhalant abuse or start your own recovery journey now, call our team at We Level Up or visit our contact form. Join in raising alertness on National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week.
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 National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week – March 20-26 – National Institute on Drug Abuse
 What is the scope of inhalant use in the United States? – National Institute on Drug Abuse
 Inhalants Research Report – National Institute on Drug Abuse
 Inhalants – National Institute on Drug Abuse
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