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Inhalants Facts & Figures

Overview

Contents
Overview
Extent of Use
Health Effects
Treatment
Legislation
Street Terms
Other Links
Sources

Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, or mind-altering, effect. Inhalants include a broad range of chemicals found in hundreds of different products that may have different pharmacological effects. There are four general categories of inhalants:

  • Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature and are found in products such as paint thinners/removers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, correction fluids, and felt-tip marker fluids.
  • Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents and include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.
  • Gases used as inhalants include medical anesthetics (ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide) as well as gases used in household or commercial products (butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerants).
  • Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite, and are commonly known as "poppers" or "snappers."1

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Extent of Use

According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using inhalants at least once during their lifetimes, representing 9.1% of the population aged 12 or older. Nearly 2.1 million (0.8%) reported past year inhalant use and 616,000 (0.2%) reported past month inhalant use. 2

In 2007, there were 775,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used inhalants for the first time within the past 12 months; 66.3% were under age 18 when they first used. There was no significant difference in the number of inhalant initiates between 2006 and 2007. However, there was a significant increase in the average age at first use among recent initiates aged 12 to 49 from 2006 (15.7 years) to 2007 (17.1 years).3

Among students surveyed as part of the 2007 Monitoring the Future study, 15.6% of eighth graders, 13.6% of tenth graders, and 10.5% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of inhalants.4

Percent of Students Reporting Inhalant Use, 2007

 
8th Grade
10th Grade
12th Grade

Past month

   3.9%

   2.5%

   1.2%

Past year

8.3

6.6

3.7

Lifetime

15.6   

13.6  

10.5   

Approximately 35.9% of eighth graders and 43.0% of tenth graders surveyed in 2007 reported that trying inhalants once or twice was a “great risk.”5

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also conducts a survey of high school students throughout the United States called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Among students surveyed for the 2007 YRBSS, 13.3% reported using inhalants at least one time during their lifetimes.6

Percent of Students Reporting Lifetime Inhalant Use, 2003–2007

 
2003
2005
2007
9th grade
13.6%
14.1%
15.0%
10th grade
11.1
13.2
14.6
11th grade
11.0
11.4
12.5
12th grade
11.8
10.1
10.2
Total
12.1
12.4
13.3

Approximately 6.3% of college students and 9.1% of young adults (ages 19–28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of inhalants.7

Percent of College Students/Young Adults Reporting Inhalant Use, 2006–2007

 
College Students
Young Adults
2006
2007
2006
2007
Past month
   0.4%
   0.1%
     0.3%
   0.2%
Past year
1.5
1.5
  1.3
0.8
Lifetime
7.4
6.3
10.9
9.1

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 13.6% of State prisoners and 7.5% of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they used inhalants at some point in their lives.8

Percent of Prisoners Reporting Inhalant Use, 1997 and 2004

 
State Prisoners
Federal Prisoners
1997
2004
1997
2004
In month before offense
1.0%
1.0%
0.5%
0.8%
Regularly*
5.4
4.5
2.6
3.0
Ever in lifetime
14.4
13.6
7.7
7.5
* Used drugs at least once a week for at least a month.

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Health Effects

Most inhalants act directly on the central nervous system (CNS) to produce psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects. They have short-term effects similar to anesthetics, which slow the body's functions.9

Most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication with initial excitation, then drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation. If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce anesthesia, a loss of sensation, and even loss of consciousness.10

Prolonged sniffing of the highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can induce irregular and rapid heart rhythms and lead to heart failure and death within minutes of a session of prolonged sniffing. This syndrome, known as "sudden sniffing death," can result from a single session of inhalant use. Chronic exposure to inhalants can produce significant, sometimes irreversible, damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.11

A strong need to continue using inhalants has been reported among many individuals, particularly those who abuse inhalants for prolonged periods over many days. Compulsive use and a mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse. Additional symptoms exhibited by long-term inhalant abusers include weight loss, muscle weakness, disorientation, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.12

Of an estimated 108 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2005, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,449,154 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that inhalants were involved in 4,312 ED visits.13

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Treatment

From 1996 to 2006, the number of admissions to treatment in which inhalants was the primary drug of abuse decreased from 1,974 in 1996 to 1,034 in 2006. Inhalant admissions represented 0.1% of the total drug/alcohol admissions to treatment during both 1996 and 2006.14

Those admitted to treatment for inhalants during 2006 were primarily male (67.0%) and white (65.3%). Nearly 40% of the inhalant admissions in 2006 involved clients under the age of 20.15

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Legislation

Although not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), many State legislatures have attempted to deter youth who buy legal products to get high by placing restrictions on the sale of these products to minors. As reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures, by 2000, 38 States had adopted laws preventing the sale, use, and/or distribution to minors of various products commonly abused as inhalants. Some States have introduced fines, incarceration, or mandatory treatment for the sale, distribution, use, and/or possession of inhalable chemicals.16

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Street Terms17

Common terms Associated with Inhalants

Term Definition Term Definition
Air Blast Inhalants Bagging Using Inhalants
Buzz Bomb Nitrous Oxide Climax Isobutyl Nitrate
Glading Using Inhalants Gluey Sniffing or inhaling glue
Huffer Inhalants abuser Poor Man's Pot Inhalants

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Other Links

National Inhalant Prevention Coalition
NIPC is a public-private effort to promote awareness and recognition of the under publicized problem of inhalant use.

Inhalant Abuse
This site provides parents with information on the dangers of inhalant abuse, tips for talking to kids, and other resources.

Inhalant Abuse Resources
This site provides a listing of NIDA's inhalant-related resources.

Inhalants Publications
A listing of inhalants-related publications from various sources.

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Sources

1 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Inhalant Abuse Research Report, 2005

2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, September 2008

3 Ibid.

4 National Institute on Drug Abuse and University of Michigan, 2007 Monitoring the Future Study Drug Data Tables, December 2007

5 Ibid.

6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: Youth Online: Comprehensive Results

7 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2007. Volume II: College Students & Adults Ages 19–45 (PDF), 2008

8 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004, October 2006

9 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Community Drug Alert Bulletin: Inhalants, January 2005

10 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Inhalant Abuse Research Report, 2005

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2005: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits, March 2007

14 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) Highlights—2006, February 2008

15 Ibid.

16 National Conference of State Legislatures. Unpublished Information on Inhalant Legislation Through June 2000.

17 Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse, Street Terms: Drugs and the Drug Trade Inhalants section

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