Who Abuses Inhalants

One possible reason for the increased use of volatile solvents is that more girls are joining boys in sniffing solvents. Studies in New York State and Texas report that males are using solvents at only slightly higher rates than females. Among Native Americans, whose solvent-abuse rates are the highest of any ethnic group, lifetime prevalence rates for males and females were nearly identical, according to 1991 NIDA data.

There is a public perception that inhalant abuse is more common among HISPANIC youth than among other ethnic groups. However, surveys have not found high rates of abuse by Hispanics in all geographic areas. Rates for Hispanics may be related to socioeconomic conditions. Hispanic youths in poor environments may use solvents heavily, but the usage rates in less stressful environments are lower.

In fact, inhalant abuse shows an episodic pattern, with short-term abuse outbreaks developing in a particular school or region as a specific inhalant practice or product becomes popular in a fashion typical of teenage fads. This episodic pattern can be reflected in survey results and can overstate the magnitude of a continually fluctuating level of abuse.

Inhalant abusers typically use other drugs as well. Children as young as fourth graders who use volatile solvents will also start experimenting with other drugs—usually alcohol and marijuana. Adolescent solvent abusers are POLYDRUG users prone to use whatever is available, although they show a preference for solvents. Solvent abuse is held in low regard by older adolescents, who consider it unsophisticated, a childish habit.

It is not just juveniles who are abusing inhalants. Reports in the mid-1990s indicate that college-age and older adults are the primary abusers of butane and nitrous oxide.

(See ALSO: Poverty and Drug Use)


Hormes, J. T., Filley, C. M., & Rosenberg, N. L.

(1986). Neurologic sequelae of chronic solvent vapor abuse. Neurology, 36 (5), 698-702. Sharp, C. W., Beauvais, F., & Spence, R. (Eds.).

(2000). Inhalant abuse (NIDA Research Monograph,

NIH Pub. No. 00-3818). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Sharp, C. W., & Rosenberg, N. L. (1992). Volatile substances. In J. H. Lowinson et al. (Eds.). Substance abuse: A comprehensive textbook, 3rd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

SlEGEL, E., & Wason, S. (1990). Sudden death caused by inhalation of butane and propane. New England Journal of Medicine, 323 (23), 1638.

Neil Swan Revised by Donna Graft

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