man wearing black Sharks cap and jacket exhaling white smoke
woman standing beside round lightbulb while smoking

Inhalant abuse, often called “huffing” or “bagging,” is breathing in any legal household substance such as lighter fluid, paint thinner, or gasoline in order to achieve the feeling of being high or a head rush.

A large proportion of inhalant abuse occurs in young teens or pre-teens.1 There have even been reports of kids as young as 5 or 62 using inhalants because of its ease of availability at home and the lack of education about its extreme dangers that can be fatal. Consider those school-age children confined to the home during the pandemic and experiencing higher levels of stress because of their situation (like caregivers being out of work or lack of socialization with peers at school). This can lead to increases in using “whatever is available” to get high and escape.

If you discover a loved one, family member, child, or friend is abusing inhalants of any kind, seek help right away. Windward Way Recovery can provide a full continuum of care that is tailored to each person’s unique needs. Medically supervised detoxification, partial hospitalization that includes group and individual therapy, outpatient programs, aftercare, and case management needs can all be addressed with Cardinal’s recovery programs.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are any type of substance breathed into the body by the mouth or nose. They are absorbed very quickly by the lungs into the bloodstream, slowing the flow of oxygen to the brain and body, creating an immediate feeling of a head rush or being high.

How Do People Take Inhalants?

  1. Sniffing or snorting directly from a container, can, bottle, etc.
  2. Spraying the substance directly into the nose or mouth
  3. Spraying into a paper or plastic bag and sniffing (“bagging”)
  4. Soaking a rag and pressing against the mouth and nose (“huffing”)
  5. Filling a balloon and inhaling

Common Types of Inhalants

There are commonly abused inhalants found in every household.

Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. They are found in:

  • Paint thinners and removers
  • Dry cleaning fluids
  • Degreasers
  • Gasoline
  • Spot removers
  • Correction fluids
  • Nail polish remover


  • Butane (from lighters)
  • Propane (gas grills, air fresheners, aerosol sprays, hairspray, spray deodorants)
  • Medical anesthetic gases (ether, chloroform, halothane, nitrous oxide)


Aerosols are sprays that can contain both propellants and solvents.

  • Spray paint
  • Hairspray
  • Whipped cream dispenser cans (“whippits”)
  • Fabric protector sprays
  • Vegetable oil cooking sprays

Nitrites or “Poppers”

Nitrites are in their own special class. Nitrites like amyl, butyl, or cyclohexylamine are used primarily as sexual enhancers or to induce relaxation during risky sexual events. Commonly known as “poppers,” amyl nitrite is often sold online or in adult novelty stores in small bottles resembling energy drinks and labeled as “Rush,” “Jungle Juice,” “VCR head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”


Who Is At Risk for Inhalant Abuse?

The spectrum of people who are at-risk for inhalant abuse is quite wide.

Adolescents: Young Adults, Teens & Pre-Teens

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health3 (NSDUH) and surveys conducted by Monitoring the Future 4 indicate that inhalant abuse is most widespread among young people. This may be because inhalants are much more readily available to kids than alcohol or other illegal or prescription drugs. Data suggest that inhalant abuse reaches its peak at some point during the seventh through ninth grades. According to MTF surveys5 from recent years, eighth-graders regularly report the highest rates of abuse.



Because common household inhalants are so convenient, cheap, legal, and more readily available than illegal drugs, rates of inhalant abuse are higher in people of lower-income, people suffering from mental illness and/or homelessness, those living in rural communities, and those in communities with high unemployment rates.

Men Who Have Sex With Men

Whether they are homosexual, bisexual, or any male having sex with other men, there is a subgroup of men that inhale substances such as amyl nitrite 6“Poppers”) in order to intensify the sexual experience or to eliminate the fear of having sex (which is often risky, dangerous, or unprotected.) Often referred to as “chemsex,” using amyl nitrite or other inhalants poses the same dangers as inhaling other household gases or liquids.

Party-Goers at Clubs, Bars, and Music Festivals

There are many opportunities for nitrous oxide gas to be circulated at concerts and festivals; Nitrous is most commonly distributed in the form of whipped cream canisters (“whippets,”), which are commonly expressed into balloons and sold or passed around for inhalation. These environments are also typical spots for buying or passing nitrites around as well.

What Are The Potential Dangers of Inhalant Abuse?

Highly concentrated amounts of certain inhalants can lead to sudden sniffing death – heart failure and death can occur within minutes, even after only a single session by a healthy individual.

Animal and human research show that most inhalants are extremely toxic. High concentrations of toxic inhalants can cause death by:

  • Asphyxiation – inhalant vapors displace oxygen in the lungs
  • Suffocation – fumes from inhalants replace oxygen or methods of breathing inhalants inside plastic bags over the head
  • Convulsions or seizures – brain signals are interrupted by poisons in inhalants
  • Coma – all but vital functions shut down
  • Choking – inhalants may cause vomiting, and users may aspirate their own vomit
  • Fatalities – motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents when under the influence of inhalants

What Are The Short-Term Effects of Inhalant Use?

Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and are quickly distributed to the brain and other organs. 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.

Nearly all inhalants, other than nitrites, produce a pleasant feeling by depressing the CNS. Within minutes of inhaling, the user experiences intoxication along with other effects similar to those produced by alcohol. The alcohol-like effects include slurred speech, euphoria, muscle weakness, belligerence, apathy, impaired judgment, and dizziness. Users may also experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions, depending on the types of inhalants ingested.

Nitrites (poppers) make the heart beat faster and produce a sensation of heat and excitement.

What Does Inhalant Abuse Disorder Look Like?

How do you know someone is abusing inhalants? Inhalant abusers may show such signs as:

  • Significant changes in behavior such as apathy (lack of interest), depression, irritability, hostility, agitation, and paranoia
  • Paint stains or chemical odors on hands, fingers, or clothes
  • Decreased appetite with weight loss
  • Sudden change in friends and hobbies
  • A decline in school performance
  • Lack of self-care, poor hygiene, and grooming habits
  • Slurred speech
  • Runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Red, teary eyes
  • Tiredness
  • Ulcers or irritation and redness around the nose and mouth
  • Confusion & poor concentration

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse?

Many individuals who abuse inhalants for prolonged periods develop a strong craving or urge to continue using them. Compulsive use and mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse.

  • Long-term inhalant abusers may exhibit weight loss, muscle weakness, disorientation, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.
  • Chronic exposure can lead to widespread and long-lasting damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Nerve damage can be similar to that seen in individuals with degenerative neurological diseases (such as multiple sclerosis)
  • Chronic use can produce significant damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
  • Prolonged abuse can negatively affect a person’s cognition, movement, vision, and hearing.

How Do You Treat Inhalant Addiction?

Since so many chronic inhalant abusers are young children, it is essential for parents to recognize the problem and get help for their children. Education of young people about the extreme dangers of inhalants is important both for prevention and treatment.

Addiction is so much more than a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Treatment for Inhalant Use Disorder must include learning coping skills through therapy with skilled professionals. Once you have eliminated the substance from your body, you will need time, talk, and tools to overcome that physical and mental dependence.

So many social activities, friends, and family units have inherent triggers that can push you into relapsing back into drug, alcohol, or other substance use. If you commit and take time to recover in a protected setting like Windward Way Recovery, you will gain the strength, knowledge, and tools necessary to deal with all the stressors in your life without using or abusing substances like household inhalants.

How Can Windward Way Recovery Help People Who Have Inhalant Use Disorder?

Windward Way Recovery offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment services. However, the first step in any recovery process is reaching out for treatment. Whether starting with inpatient or outpatient detoxification, your treatment begins by asking for help.

It only takes a simple phone call to Windward Way Recovery to begin admission. This process can definitely be overwhelming. At Cardinal, we understand how hard this step can be, so we work hard to make the process as comforting and straightforward as possible. It’s helpful to gather all your current and previous health information before calling us. The following is our process and the steps necessary to join us at Windward Way Recovery.

1. Pre-Admissions Process:  Cardinal staff will ask about a person’s drug and alcohol history and current situation. If applicable, other medical conditions will be disclosed and discussed. Staff will acquire a list of doctors the individual is seeing and discuss prior treatment history (if any). Next, a Cardinal staff member will discuss programs at our facility to see if there is a suitable match for your needs

3. Admission: Should Cardinal be a good fit, insurance information will be discussed. If you do not have insurance, there may be private self-pay options or even possible scholarships. There may be a waiting list, or we may be able to take you in right away.

4. Admittance: Immediately after arriving at the recovery facility, each person undergoes a comprehensive health assessment. Addiction professionals will discuss a person’s substance abuse history, relevant mental and physical health conditions, and family life. Then, you will be provided with our policies and rules.

5. Treatment Length: the length of treatment varies greatly depending upon the substance used, the length of time using, and the presence of co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.

How Can Windward Way Recovery Help Me?

From its leafy suburban setting to its wide variety of holistic therapies, Windward Way Recovery is an industry leader in substance abuse treatment care. We adhere to the highest standards and utilize cutting edge research findings in all of our methodologies and levels of care including:

  • Detoxification referral
  • Community-based care with housing provided (partial hospitalization)
  • Intensive outpatient care
  • Individual and group therapies

Types of Therapy Offered at Windward Way Recovery

Group Therapy

Our intensive group therapy sessions offer the opportunity for:

  • Psychoeducational groups (education about substance abuse topics)
  • Life skills groups (learn the tools you’ll need to break free from addiction)
  • Cognitive-behavioral groups (rearrange patterns of thinking that lead to addiction)
  • Peer support groups (a forum where members can supportively challenge each other to debunk “excuses”)
  • Interpersonal processing group (members help each other process the relational and other life issues that were previously escaped through addictive substances)

Individual Therapy

We offer individualized therapy to help individuals:

  • Address mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety that impacts daily functioning
  • Process previous or current traumas
  • Utilize cognitive behavioral therapy/dialectical behavioral therapy interventions to enable thinking patterns that are conducive to long-term recovery
  • Learn about the biology of addiction in the context of their own addiction

Nature Therapy

Our unique, holistic approach includes nature therapy (also called green or eco therapy):

  • Nature meditation
  • Physical exercise outdoors (yoga, walking, etc.)
  • Conservation (taking action to help preserve nature)

What Steps Can You Take Right Now?

The desire to stop using drugs or alcohol is essential to begin a lifelong recovery path. Reach out to our staff at Windward Way Recovery. If you live anywhere in the Midwest, Cardinal is centrally located in Franklin, California, just thirty minutes south of Californiapolis, with a wide spectrum of programs and resources to help people with substance abuse issues.

Please visit our website to learn more about our programs and the treatment options available. Take a look at our tranquil suburban facility, where you can find refuge from the stresses and triggers of the everyday world in order to work on self-care, rest, therapy, and taking back control of your life.

  1. In most cases, if a person has a substance abuse disorder, recovery begins at the detoxification stage. Medical monitoring of this stage reduces the risks to mental and physical well-being.
  2. Following medical detoxification, Cardinal’s treatment options include community-based rehabilitation in a treatment program that provides housing for clients (PHP), intensive outpatient programming (IOP), outpatient programming (OP), and case management assistance (sober living referrals, community resource connections, etc.)
  3. The intensity of these treatment program options ranges significantly, from outpatient counseling to partial hospitalization programming.


Windward Way Recovery is part of the Zinnia Health Network7 of addiction and mental health services. There are seven facilities in the network, focused on treatment paths that include detoxification and stabilization, partial hospitalization/outpatient options, clinical and holistic approaches, and individualized program tracks dependent on needs. Please call, message, or email us today to begin the process of freeing yourself from the prison of addiction.

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