compressed air
compressed air

Kids Are Using Inhalants More Than Ever. Here's How To Protect Them

Posted on October 19, 2022 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Kids inhaling household items to get high isn’t a novel concept. But in a post-COVID world where depression and anxiety are still at all-time highs, inhalant use among kids has reached record-breaking numbers.

“Like so many other substances, including drugs, alcohol and other illicit substances, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of inhalants since the pandemic,” says Chris Nixon, LMSW, an addiction medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. Unfortunately, inhaling volatile compounds can produce devastating effects ranging from brain damage to death.

What Is Inhalant Abuse?

Teens have been sniffing dangerous chemicals — nail polish remover, glue, spray paint — for decades. One of the latest trends among younger kids and teens involves inhaling computer dusting spray, whipped cream dispensers and other products that contain compressed air.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalants are among the most widely abused substances over the last decade, with nearly 700,000 Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 using such products to get a euphoric high.

While sniffing toxic substances from household products has mood-boosting effects, they can cause serious and even devastating damage to major organs, such as the heart, lungs and brain if inhaled repeatedly.

The three main categories of inhalants include:

  1. Volatile solvents, such as paint thinners, gasoline, glue, rubber cement and nail polish
  2. Aerosols, including hairsprays, vegetable oil sprays and spray paint
  3. Gases from products like canned whipped cream and compressed air, as well as gasoline

And they can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • Bagging, from a plastic or paper bag
  • Dusting, spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth
  • Glading, inhaling air-freshener aerosols
  • Huffing, holding a soaked rag or cloth over the mouth or nose
  • Sniffing, inhaling fumes directly through the nose
  • Snorting, ingesting through the mouth

What Parents Should Know About Inhalants

It’s not uncommon for kids to experiment with inhalants. It can start with something as simple as a tween sniffing a Sharpie. But inhalant use can escalate quickly, particularly when kids are bored at home, socially and emotionally isolated and struggling with self-esteem.

“Household chemicals are accessible, convenient and discreet,” Nixon says. “And because they’re common household products, kids think they can’t be dangerous.”

Unfortunately, they’re wrong. The toxic chemicals in popular inhalants can produce acute effects such as euphoria, dizziness and trouble walking, but they can also lead to brain damage, paralysis and death — even among first-timers.

Keeping Kids Safe

It’s important to be open with your children about the dangers of substance abuse. While alcohol, vaping and opioids tend to get the most air time, it’s important to talk to your kids about the dangers of common household products, including inhalants.

“When you spend quality time with your children, you’ll be better equipped to notice changes in their mood and behavior,” Nixon says. “Instead of judging your child for their choices, or focusing on consequences and punishments, approach difficult topics with curiosity, acceptance and love.”

Most important, pay attention to the warning signs of inhalant abuse:

  • Irritability, confusion and mood changes
  • Discarded aerosol cans
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns (use of inhalants can lead to fatigue)
  • Poor academic performance
  • Runny eyes and nose and nosebleeds
  • Sores around the mouth

If you suspect your child is using inhalants, talk to a qualified professional. With early intervention, kids can address the underlying issues that led them to experiment with substance use.


To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Christopher Nixon is the director of Addiction Medicine at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center.

Categories : ParentWell
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