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Medically Reviewed

What is Huffing? The Dangers of Inhalant Abuse

- 6 sections

Medically Verified: January 23, 2024

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

What is Huffing?

Many people use household chemicals to get high, which is called “huffing.” Some people may mistakenly believe that huffing isn’t dangerous since these everyday products are sold in stores without restrictions. However, many household chemicals you use daily can be dangerous when people misuse them.

Inhalants are a type of vapor-emitting or aerosolized substances that some people inhale (breathe in) for their pleasurable or mind-altering effects. Many household chemicals, including nitrates, aerosol sprays, solvents, and gasses, can cause significant harm to people’s mental and physical health.

This article will explore what huffing is, the dangers of this practice, and how to find help for inhalant abuse. Reach out to the specialists at Charlotte Detox Center now to learn about our effective detox programs or to explore our other recovery programs.

Inhalant Abuse: The Basics

Inhalants are substances people use for their mind-altering effects. Many inhalants are easily accessible and available in inexpensive household products, such as:

  • Paint thinner
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Glue
  • Spray paint
  • Gas

When people use these products to get high, it’s known as huffing. People abuse inhalants in many ways, including:

  • Spraying aerosols directly into the mouth or nose
  • Spraying a substance into a plastic or paper bag to trap fumes, then breathing them in–this is sometimes called “bagging”
  • Soaking a rag with a chemical and putting it over their nose and mouth
  • Inhaling the fumes from substances directly out of their containers
  • Inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons

In 2020, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted research about inhalant abuse. Their study showed that adolescents aged 12 to 17 made up the highest proportion of people who abused inhalants in the United States and that about 2.4 million people over the age of 12 had misused inhalants in the previous year.

The Dangers of Huffing

Inhalant abuse can pose serious dangers to individuals. Some of the key dangers of inhalant abuse include:

  • Asphyxiation – Inhaling certain chemicals can displace oxygen in the lungs, leading to asphyxiation.
  • Heart Failure – Some inhalants can cause irregular heartbeats or lead to sudden heart failure.
  • Dizziness and Disorientation – Users may experience dizziness, confusion, and loss of coordination.
  • Organ Damage – Prolonged inhalant abuse can result in damage to vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
  • Brain Damage – Chronic inhalant abuse may lead to cognitive impairment and permanent damage to the brain.
  • Memory Loss – Long-term use may lead to memory loss and cognitive deficits.
  • Impaired Judgment – Inhalant use impairs judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS)/Cardiac Arrest – In some cases, inhalant abuse can trigger sudden cardiac arrest, leading to death from SSDS.

It’s crucial for individuals, especially young people, to be aware of the dangers associated with inhalant abuse and seek help if they or someone they know is struggling with inhalant abuse.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse

People can misuse inhalants to get high. The effects of most inhalants are short-lived, causing short periods of euphoria, relaxation, or other mind-altering effects. Typically, the effects of inhalants only last a few minutes up to an hour.

Because the effects of inhalant abuse are short-lived, recognizing it can be challenging. Many people use inhalants repeatedly because the effects don’t last very long, which increases the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

Inhalant abuse can cause noticeable changes in a person’s physical appearance and behavior. Recognizing the signs of huffing can help you quickly identify a problem and seek treatment.

Physical signs of inhalant abuse include:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor coordination
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Paint stains on the skin or clothing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • A chemical smell on the breath

People who abuse inhalants may appear drunk or dazed. They may slur their speech or have difficulty focusing on their surroundings. Inhalant abuse can have an impact on people’s mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, irritability, and excitability.

Some of the behavioral signs of huffing and inhalant abuse include:

  • Using inhalants more over time
  • Using inhalants longer than they planned to
  • Spending a lot of time and energy getting, using, and recovering from using inhalants
  • Experiencing cravings for inhalants
  • Isolating or only spending time with others who abuse inhalants or other substances
  • Using inhalants in dangerous circumstances, such as driving while high
  • Having the desire to stop using inhalants but finding they can’t

People who develop tolerance to inhalants may develop withdrawal symptoms if they stop using them. Withdrawal can be so uncomfortable that people may struggle to avoid relapse without supervision, treatment, and significant support.

What to Expect During Inhalant Withdrawal

While inhalant dependence is not common, it can occur when people use inhalants heavily or frequently. People who develop physical dependence on inhalants may experience severe withdrawal symptoms that can make it difficult for them to stop using these dangerous substances when they choose.

Inhalant withdrawal symptoms depend on the type of substance a person uses to get high. Some of the most common symptoms of inhalant withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Tingling sensations throughout the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures

People going through inhalant withdrawal require the treatment and support of a medical detox program. A detox facility can provide a secure, sober environment and structured care that keeps people safe and comfortable during detoxification.

During a detox program, people follow a tailored treatment plan that may include:

  • Medications to reduce cravings and other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
  • Round-the-clock supervision
  • Support from mental health and medical specialists
  • Emotional support, including individual and group therapy, when appropriate
  • Exercise, nutrition support, massage, and other holistic treatments to relieve discomfort and calm stress

Detoxification is the first stage of a person’s lifelong recovery journey. After completing a detox program, people must stay engaged in recovery by participating in comprehensive treatment and finding ongoing support in the community.

Find Help For Inhalant Abuse

If you or someone in your life engages in huffing or other forms of inhalant abuse, you are not alone. Reach out to the specialists at Charlotte Detox Center now to learn about our supportive detox programs or to schedule an intake assessment.