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SAMHSA News - March/April 2008, Volume 16, Number 2

Statistics on Inhalants Show Young Teens at Risk

For some 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds, getting high is as simple as looking under the sink in the kitchen or out in the garage.

Household cleaning fluids, solvents, glue, and spray paints are among the most frequently abused, common substances categorized as “inhalants.” Inhalants are defined as liquids, sprays, and gases that people sniff or inhale to get high.

According to Inhalant Use across the Adolescent Years, a recent report from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), inhalants are used by young teens age 12 to 13 more than any other class of drugs.

Glue, shoe polish, and toluene (a solvent) were the most frequently mentioned types of inhalants used among youth age 12 to 17 who used inhalants for the first time in the 12 months before the survey. A total of 29.6 percent of respondents reported use of inhalants in this category. Gasoline or lighter fluid and spray paints (25.7 and 24.4 percent, respectively) followed.

As part of National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week in March, SAMHSA released this report as well as a report on treatment admissions for inhalant abuse.

In addition to household products, inhalants are found in a range of inexpensive and readily available office, industrial, and automotive products.

Young Teens

In the report, combined data from 2002 to 2006 indicate that an annual average of 593,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 had used inhalants for the first time in the year before they took the survey.

While percentages of adolescents using most illicit drugs generally increased with age, the rates of past-year inhalant use increased steadily from 3.4 percent at age 12 to 5.3 percent at age 14, then declined to 3.9 percent by age 17.

Types of inhalants used also varied by age. Among past-year initiates age 12 to 15, common inhalants included gasoline or lighter fluid. Comparatively, nitrous oxide or whippets were the most common type of inhalant used among past-year inhalant initiates age 16 or 17.

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Treatment Admissions

In another report from SAMHSA, Adolescent Admissions Reporting Inhalants: 2006, data showed that adolescents age 12 to 17 represented 48 percent of all substance abuse treatment admissions reporting inhalants.

The report from the Drug and Alcohol Services Information System (DASIS) examines adolescent substance abuse treatment admissions who reported using inhalants and compares them with those adolescent admissions who did not report using inhalants.

According to the report, adolescents who reported inhalant abuse were more likely to have a co-occurring mental health problem. Forty-five percent of adolescent admissions reporting inhalants had a concurrent psychiatric disorder, in contrast to only 29 percent who did not report inhalants.

Both reports are available online on SAMHSA’s Web site at

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