Get the Facts on Inhalants

Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs & Alcohol: Get the Facts on Inhalants

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive (mind–altering) effects. Although people are exposed to volatile solvents and other inhalants in the home and in the workplace, many do not think of inhalable substances as drugs because most of them were never meant to be used in that way.

Young people are likely to abuse inhalants, in part because inhalants are readily available and inexpensive. Sometimes children unintentionally misuse inhalant products that are found in household products. Parents should see that these substances are monitored closely so that they are not inhaled by young children.

Inhalants fall into the following categories:


• Industrial or household solvents or solvent–containing products, including paint thinners or solvents, degreasers (dry–cleaning fluids), gasoline, and glues

• Art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt–tip–marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaners


• Gases used in household or commer cial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases

• Household aerosol propellants and as sociated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, and fabric protector sprays

• Medical anesthetic gases, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas)


• aliphatic nitrites, including cyclohexyl nitrite, which is available to the general public; amyl nitrite, which is available only by prescription; and butyl nitrite, which is now an illegal substance.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2002, September 24). NIDA InfoFacts: InhalantsWashington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Between 1994 and 2000, the number of new inhalant users increased more than 50 percent, from 618,000 new users in 1994 to 979,000 in 2000. These estimates were higher than a previous peak in 1978 (662,000 new users).

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2002, September 4). Results from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NHSDA Series H–17 ed.) (BKD461, SMA 02–3758)Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.