Alcohol and Other Drugs
Drug dependency: inhalants
to a group of household or industrial products such as aerosols,
petrol, paint, glue and other forms of solvents, which are sniffed
or inhaled for the purpose of getting
Inhalant use is also called chroming, volatile substance use,
glue sniffing or petrol sniffing. It is associated with multiple
health risks including brain injury. The vapors from the solvents
are often sucked or inhaled from a bag or plastic bottle to be
absorbed directly through the lungs and reach the brain.
Inhalants are a particular problem among younger age groups as it
is seen as a cheap and easy way to get high. Like alcohol,
inhalants are depressants and give the feeling of being high or
A person may start chroming for multiple reasons. For some,
curiosity may trigger short-term experimentation. Other may use
inhalants to cope with difficult feelings or fit in with a social
group. Some will grow out of the practice as they develop other
interests. A few will go on to become long-term dependent inhalant
users. Generally these users will have other problems in their
lives and feel unable to quit even if they dislike the
Often other drugs such as alcohol, cannabis or ecstasy are
consumed concurrently with inhalants, multiplying the short- and
long-term health risks. It is important that use of inhalants
be detected early to prevent serious health problems.
Health risks with inhalant
Short- and long-term use of inhalants can cause damage to the
brain, nervous system, liver and lungs. In the immediate stage a
user may feel excitement and disinhibition; however this is often
quickly replaced with headaches, disorientation and nausea.
Short-term health risks of inhalant use include:
- agitation and disorientation
- nose bleeds
- sores around the mouth and nose
- flu-like symptoms
- bloodshot eyes
- diarrhea and vomiting
- reckless behaviour
- abdominal pain
Long-term health risks include:
- Permanent brain injury
- Loss of balance and coordination
- eyesight problems
- hearing loss
- Damage to major organs including the Heart, liver,
Cleaning products, correction fluid and aerosol sprays are
particularly likely to cause permanent brain damage. The risk of
permanent brain damage increases with heavy and frequent use. Death
from chroming can occur and is usually due to accidents, such as
suffocation caused by use of plastic bags to inhale fumes, choking
on vomit when unconscious, and risk-taking behaviors. Hypoxic brain
injury may occur when the air supply to the brain is cut off due to
choking on vomit while unconscious.
Some inhalants can also indirectly cause sudden death by cardiac
arrest, in a syndrome known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. The
anesthetic gases present in the inhalants can sensitize the user to
adrenaline. In this state a sudden surge of adrenaline (e.g., from
a frightening hallucination) can cause a fatal cardiac
Effect of inhalants on the
Inhalants produce a vapor that is sniffed or inhaled and
absorbed directly through the lung to reach the brain. The effects
are immediate; as the chemicals are easily absorbed into the brain
and other organs.
As there are many types of chemicals in the products that are
inhaled, the way they affect the brain can differ. Generally, these
chemicals are toxic to nerve cells in the central nervous system.
Inhalant use can cause cell death or alteration of functioning. The
result is long-term damage to functions of the brain; including
concentration, memory, ability to plan and organize, and sense of
balance and coordination.
Dependency & treatment
The body will develop tolerance with regular use of inhalants. A
person may develop both a psychological dependence and a physical
dependence. A psychological dependence means the inhaling becomes
far more important than other activities of life. Chromers will
form a craving and find it very difficult to stop. Chronic abuse
may result in physical dependence where the body gets used to
functioning with the inhalant present. Stopping abruptly in these
cases can cause withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression,
loss of appetite, irritation, aggression, dizziness, tremors and
Treatment is more effective if tailored to suit a person's
specific situation and usually involves a combination of methods.
The different options include individual counselling, group
therapy, medication and supervised/home withdrawal. Early
intervention is important before any permanent damage is done.
Please contact your Brain Injury Association or local drug services
What can parents do
It can be difficult to detect if your child is chroming. One
clue to look for is an unusual amount of glue, solvent or aerosol
containers in your child's possession. You may detect chemical
smells on clothes or breath or unexpected and rapid 'drunken'
behaviour. Sores around the nose and mouth can also be a sign of
If you suspect your child may be chroming it is best not to
panic. If you stay calm your child is more likely to discuss the
problem with you.
Really listen to what your child says and try to understand
their point of view. They may have been experimenting at this
stage, so the problem has been detected early.
Discuss with your child the risks of inhalant use. If your child
is a regular user, they need your help and support, not
condemnation. You should also look at the message your lifestyle
sends to your child. Your use of legal drugs such as alcohol or
tobacco can influence your child's attitudes to drugs.
References and further information