Can you get addicted to huffing?

Yes, it’s possible to become addicted to huffing. More on the health impacts of huffing, types of inhalant abuse, and signs of huffing addiction here.

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Huffing, or inhalant abuse, does have the potential to become addictive. For example, huffing military use is a problem for the U.S. Armed Forces. And huffing addiction includes characteristics of all addictions.  Some huffers feel cravings or compulsions to continue huffing. And withdrawal symptoms are also possible in habitual inhalant abusers.

But what kinds of chemicals do people huff? How can you tell if someone you love is abusing inhalants? And what are the health impacts of huffing? We address these questions and more here.

What is huffing?

“Huffing” is a slang term used to describe inhaling the vapors of various chemicals and household products in order to achieve a high. Chemical vapors can be found in over 1,000 common household products, including solvents, aerosols, and gases. This can include seemingly-innocuous substances like nail polish, markers, hair products, paint, and glue. When huffing, the vapors of chemical compounds are inhaled either by breathing directly from open containers, or rags which have been soaked with a substance. The fumes can also be inhaled from a bag which contains a bit of the substance.

Many huffers target particular chemicals called nitrites and inhale these chemicals to achieve certain effects. Nitrites are inhalants which are used to “enhance” sexual experiences, rather than to achieve a high. Cyclohexyl nitrite, amyl nitrite, and butyl nitrite can be found in some household objects such as room deodorizers, and are also sold online and in adult stores in sealed capsules. Nitrite abuse is more common in adults, where huffing household chemicals is most common among teenagers.

What does huffing do to the body?

Depending on what chemicals are being abused, huffing can have a variety of effects. Huffing can result in a euphoric or intoxicated feeling that is similar to the effects of alcohol. It will initially give a feeling or excitement, then drowsiness, lightheadedness, and agitation. However, some chemicals that people inhale can also cause serious adverse reactions. Some of the adverse effects of huffing include:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • impaired judgment
  • mood changes

Huffing and the brain

Huffing is incredibly dangerous because of the effect it has on the brain and the central nervous system. Inhaling chemical compounds or their vapors can cause brain damage by depriving the brain of oxygen. Huffing can strip the lining of nerves, causing incurable muscle spasms and tremors. Even worse, some of these chemicals are actually absorbed by the fatty tissues in the brain. Inhalants cause serious health problems ranging from hearing loss to heart problems. Huffing can easily result in permanent injury or death.

How do you get addicted to huffing?

Huffing addiction after some use and time. But the addiction liability and potential is high, because it’s difficult to control how much of a substance gets into your system through inhalation. Combined with quick action time to the brain, the risk of addiction to huffing or overdose is high, especially when you huff to avoid emotional or psychological problems.

Who gets addicted to huffing?

Almost 17 million people have tried huffing at some point in their lives. While huffing occurs in all age groups, it’s most common among adolescents, who see it as an easy way to achieve an altered state of consciousness. The National Survey on Drug Use and Abuse found that 67% of first-time inhalant users were under 18 years old. After alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, inhalants are the 4th most common substance abused by high school students.

Signs of huffing addiction

How can you tell if someone you love is addicted to huffing? It may not be easy. Chemical compounds that people inhale are common and easily accessible, but here are a few tell-tale signs of huffing use, abuse and possible addiction:

  1. Frequently seeming drunk or disoriented
  2. Hiding spray paint cans, solvents containers, or chemical-soaked rags
  3. Paint or stains from household products on face, hands, clothing
  4. Red, runny nose
  5. Sores or rash around nose and mouth
  6. Strong chemical odors on breath or clothing

Notice some of these signs in someone you care about? Help is available! You can also learn more about inhalant addiction, available treatment options, and what you can do to help yourself or an addicted loved one quit in our inhalants addiction treatment programs and help GUIDE and be better prepared to take matters into hands.

How to avoid huffing addiction

The only way to avoid becoming a huffing addict is not to inhale household chemicals. Because it’s difficult to control how much of a substance gets into your system through inhalation, the risk of addiction or overdose is high. Apart from the addictive potential, huffing poses serious, sometimes life-threatening health risks.

Are you addicted to huffing?

If you struggle with huffing, it’s not too late to find help. As with any substance abuse problem, the best place to start is by talking to your doctor or a mental health professional. Avoid putting yourself in situations where you’ll be tempted to huff. Avoid people and places which might trigger the impulse. Look for support groups in your area, and ask your family and friends to help you through this difficult time. And leave us your questions, comments or feedback about huffing here. We will try to answer all legitimate questions personally and promptly.

Reference Sources:  National Drug Intelligence Center: Intelligence Brief: Huffing
National Institute on Drug Abuse: InfoFacts: Inhalants
NIDA for Teens: Facts on Drugs: Inhalants
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Hi all i am wondering how long the craving for inhalants last. I have been clean for almost 10 years but i am still craving it.

  2. I’ve recently found out that my sister who is in her mid 50”s has been huffing! She has had addictions with many substances and I doubt has been clean since in her 20’s. How common is it that someone this age would huff?

  3. hello every one,
    im a 23 year girl who is very addictive too huffing 91% rubbing alcohol. i cant even go a day without a drenched rag. i am rag and when it gets dry i drench it again. i buy at least 6 bottles a week
    i need help to cut down or completely stop

    1. Hi Candace. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best rehab for you.

  4. Just chiming in to say to everyone struggling with huffing that there is hope. I was addicted pretty badly for a long time, mainly due to the influence of an abusive father figure and a toxic living situation, but I’ve been able to turn things around with the help of a caring support network, including my very capable new life partner. I’ve even found a fulfilling new occupation as a truck driver.

  5. There are a few elements of huffing I don’t understand.. I guess I ‘huff’, as far as inhaling vapors goes, but I don’t get high and never have. I have never ‘huffed’ aerosols or paint thinner etc. My addiction is different. My biggest problem is that when I am pregnant my airways constantly feel closed, my breaths are shallow, and I become out-of-breath very easily and quickly. I get very dizzy and lightheaded and feel like I’m suffocating because my nose/sinuses won’t open, and I panic. Growing up, my mom always put our heads over a bowl of Vicks water/steam when we were stuffed up, so it seems like such a natural thing to turn to. I try to keep Vicks under my nose, but when I’m short of breath I rub a small amount in my palm and inhale deeply a few times until I can breath again. I’ve found I can get about the same effect from other menthol-type smells, so I’ve done icyhot, eucalyptus oil, spearmint oil, and a few other essential oil type things. Going into the emergency room always seemed to also help immediately, and I caught on that it was the smell of the rubbing alcohol opening my sinuses. Pine-sol also helps, as does hand sanitizer. Again, I’ve never gotten high off of any of these things, and never really knew that any of these could be considered ‘huffing’, so I’m trying to find a commonality (pour-opening menthol element plus a slight burning element that allows me to feel the air being inhaled) among the scents that help me breath so that I can find something that will work without hurting me or my baby. Not being able to breathe sucks. Any suggestions?

  6. Ok The first time i huffed was when i was 13-14 i use to huff from petrol gas for not very long actually say, 3-4 months then totally quit.. i am now 18 and i sniffed say 5-10 hole cans of fly spray these past 6 months. This is my 3rd week huff free. I did not have any medical attention but i am now suffering from short term head aches i hope i aint in danger of losing my life.

  7. Hi my name is Silas and I just found out my one of my family members is huffing I don’t know if I should go to them and talk to them about it or ask for help I’m only 13 and I don’t know if I should do something or talk to them please I need help ?!?

    1. Hello Silas. Thank you for being wise and reaching out about this issue. I’d advise you to tell someone else like your parents or their parents. Huffing is a risky habit, and you’ll be doing the right thing if you get that person help.

  8. Hello Liz. It’s best to start by talking to your doctor or a mental health professional. This kind of dependence needs to be treated physically and psychologically.

  9. Hi Rebecca. Good for you! Here are some suggestions:

    1. Going to a support group meeting.
    2. Calling a friend to talk about your cravings. Or calling a national hotline number.
    3. Exercise

  10. I started counseling yesterday. Today is my first day without huffing. My counselor asked me to come up with three replacement behaviors for huffing. Do you have any suggestions?

  11. Do elementary aged children in Georgetown, Delaware abuse inhalants? I don’t see any signs of it in any of the children. I am concerned.

  12. Hello Holly. I’d suggest that you check into Al-Anon. They provide support for loved ones of addicts and alcoholics, regardless of substance. Plus, Al-Anon holds frequent, weekly meetings in many towns and cities. Check out their website for more information.

    I am truly sorry to hear of your loss. I know that it is confusing to try to understand what someone goes through. Perhaps you’d receive comfort from speaking with a counselor who specializes in family addiction issues, as well.

  13. I really don’t even know where to begin with this, but I need HELP! I just lost a loved one Thursday to huffing. He was only 26 and had his whole life ahead of him! His family and friends are suffering greatly and really need some support. I knew nothing about huffing until now and I still can’t understand why such a thing is possible. I’m looking for any type of support group or information anyone has to give. Please, if anyone out there can help, please speak up.

  14. Hi Rachael. It sounds like your daughter-in-law is in active addiction. In other words, you are living with a drug addict. You can check out some of the parental tips from the government website theantidrug [dot] com. But I would suggest that you seek help via social services for her, or ask her to leave your house. With two small children in the house, drug addiction brings major anxiety, stress and eats at their security.

  15. HELP! My step-daughter who is 21 is seriously addicted to Huffing. She has been vapor-acted twice, but no help. Once found uncouncious in underwater in the bathtub by her roommate. She is now living with her dad and us. We have two small children and this is extremely stressful on us. Our income is very fixed and we have no clue what to do to help her. I thought we made progress yesterday, but then last night her and i went to Walmart and I ended up catching her in the bathroom huffing. UGH!!

    What can we do at home to help her??? I now know I can’t leave her alone not even at a public bathroom. Plus I now know I have to check to make sure she hasn’t stolen anything.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!!

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