Sniffing glue is a cheap, but dangerous way people have used to get high for many years. Solvent glue is one of many common substances that fall under the category of “inhalants.” Others include:
- aerosol sprays
- other household chemicals
Common forms of solvent glues include model glue and rubber cement.
Inhalants are typically used by adolescents as a cheaper and more easily accessible alternative to marijuana and other drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that inhalants are the only class of substances used more by younger teens than older teens.
Sniffing glue can be life-threatening. Even if the result isn’t fatal, the risks associated with glue and other inhalants include possible brain damage and severe breathing problems.
Your experience with sniffing glue may be much different than another person’s. In addition, the effect of one glue-sniffing attempt could be more or less severe than earlier or subsequent experiences.
The following includes some of the more serious risks and dangers of sniffing glue.
Acute respiratory failure
Acute respiratory failure is a potentially fatal condition that can occur when something impairs your ability to breathe or directly affects your lungs. This prevents a sufficient amount of oxygen from reaching the rest of the body.
The use of glue and other inhalants, as well as excessive alcohol consumption, are all possible causes of acute respiratory failure. Ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, as well other lung problems can also lead to chronic respiratory failure, a condition in which the body can’t take in enough oxygen over time. In serious cases, chronic respiratory failure can lead to coma.
Sniffing glue and other inhalants — especially those that include the solvents toluene and naphthalene — can damage the myelin sheath, the thin covering around the nerve fibers in the brain and the rest of your nervous system. This damage can cause long-term harm to brain function, causing neurological problems similar to those seen with multiple sclerosis.
Heart rhythm disturbances
Exposure to the chemicals in glue can lead to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). In some cases, the abnormal rhythms can lead to fatal heart failure. This is known as sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSDS), and it can occur from just one attempt.
Other serious health risks associated with sniffing glue include:
- liver damage
- kidney damage
- choking (often from vomit)
- injuries resulting from impaired judgment, such as falls or car accidents
In addition to serious health complications, there are also short-term symptoms and consequences of sniffing glue. Among them are:
- chemical odor on clothes and breath
- glue-sniffer’s rash — a rash around the mouth that extends to the middle of the face
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- mood swings and belligerence
- appearing intoxicated
- decline in thinking skills, concentration, and decision-making ability
- loss of interest in normal activities
- damage to personal relationships
- tingling in hands and feet
- loss of coordination
- hearing loss
- impaired judgment
- loss of consciousness
The “high” you can get from sniffing glue or inhaling other chemicals may cause a temporary sense of euphoria or hallucinations. However, these feelings only last a few minutes and aren’t worth the risks to your health.
Inhaling glue and other chemicals is dangerous and should never be attempted.
If you or your child is sniffing glue and may be addicted to the practice, formal addiction treatment may be helpful.
Treatment usually starts with a thorough physical examination, checking for:
- brain and central nervous system damage
- heart rhythm disturbances
- liver damage
- kidney damage
- lung problems
The chemicals in glue and other inhalants can stay in the body’s fatty tissues for weeks, meaning there may be residual effects long after a person’s last experience with the substances.
Neurological testing is also critical in planning a treatment program. Doctors will need to see if there are any permanent injuries to brain function and memory. A person’s mental and emotional health will also need evaluation by a trained therapist.
If the person sniffing glue is a student, treatment may include therapy designed to help them deal with peer pressure and find a peer group that will provide a more positive influence.
Avoidance of inhalants and other drugs is a primary goal of treatment. Young people in treatment also learn basic life skills to help them focus on their future and make healthy decisions.
Therapy sessions may include group work, as well as music and art. Recreational activities that involve physical action and multisensory stimuli can be especially helpful. Other forms of treatment may include individual talk therapy, peer support groups, family therapy, and relapse prevention education.
Talk therapy may take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you think differently about situations (such as understanding the reasons why you’re turning to inhalants or other drugs), so that your feelings about those situations and your behaviors will change.
An inhalant user’s attention span may be limited, especially early on in therapy. For that reason, therapy sessions may be limited to 15 or 30 minutes at a time. Expect a rehabilitation program to last longer than one month, partly because the chemicals can remain in the body for long periods.
Sniffing glue, huffing, and other types of inhalant use can cause short-term and long-term health problems, and even death.
If you’re curious about the effects of glue sniffing, talk to a doctor, your parents, or a school counselor. You may benefit from exploring the reasons for your curiosity.