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Article Summary

Characteristics of Inhalant Users

Age of Onset

  • Often first substance used before marijuana and cocaine. In fact, inhalant use often appears before onset of tobacco or alcohol use.
  • Experimental use onset in late childhood & early adolescence, use patterns are short lived, with cessation in late adolescence
  • Chronic use appears in early & late adolescence

Fast and Multiple Intoxication

  • Users can get high several times over a short period because inhalants are short-acting with a rapid onset
  • Attractive to children who don't like delayed gratification

Poor School Attendance

  • Drop-outs
  • Absenteeism
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion


  • Particularly theft and burglary
  • Inhalant users are more disruptive, deviant or delinquent than other drug users

Ethnic Membership

  • Users are predominately white
  • Minority involvement is concentrated in American and Canadian Native American Indians; and, Low income Hispanics


  • Experimental use equally common in males, females
  • Chronic use most common in males
  • Morbidity and mortality more common among chronic male users
  • Some male homosexuals (limited to nitrites)

High Exposure Occupational Settings

  • Adults in certain high-exposure occupational settings (e.g., painters)

High Exposure Professions

  • Adult medical workers (e.g., anesthesiologist, dentist)

Use of Multiple Inhalants

  • Exposure to solvent mixtures either in occupational or abuse settings is far more common than exposure to a single solvent.

Varied Socioeconomic Conditions

  • Impoverished, marginal or ghetto situations
  • Middle to Upper Income

Weakened Parental Influence

  • Some parents do not discourage their child's use of inhalants
  • Some parents have low sanctions against inhalant use by peers of their children

Poor School Performance and Adjustment

  • Attention deficit; poor short term memory
  • Low abstraction and judgment scores
  • Lower grades
  • Lower Intelligence Scores (verbal & performance)


  • Users seeking treatment have high rates of psychopathology, especially conduct disorders and personality disorders
  • More psychopathology in those who use when they are alone
  • Antisocial personality
  • Depressive disorder

Emotional Problems

  • More emotional problems than other drug users or non-drug users (especially anxiety, depression and anger)

Weak or Negative-Future Orientations

  • Users have dismal or no future orientations;uncertain whether or not the future is worth waiting for.
  • Low Self Esteem
  • High Adolescent Rebellion

Strong Peer Drug Influence

  • Peers have high inhalant and drug use
  • Peers have high deviance behaviors
  • Peer cluster theory

Special Setting

  • Prisons
  • Boarding Schools

Criminal Justice System Involvement

  • More family members in prison

Source:"Understanding the Inhalant User," Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse

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