Huffing Paint: Signs and Symptoms

Huffing Paint

Huffing is a generalized term that is often applied to various types of inhalant abuse. However, it also represents just one of the many ways NIDA describes in which inhalants are used to produce a high, including:

  • Huffing: putting the substance in a cloth and pressing to the mouth
  • Bagging: pouring the contents into a bag and inhaling through the bag opening
  • Sniffing or snorting: inhaling the fumes directly from the container
  • Spraying: just what it sounds like – spraying the substance directly into the nose or mouth

Huffing is most often used for paint, which can be sopped into the cloth from the can or sprayed into the rag using spray paint. The rag is then placed over the nose and mouth so the fumes can be inhaled.

The active chemical in huffing is toluene, a toxic chemical that, according to the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and initially appears to produce an excited and euphoric response.

Signs and Symptoms of Huffing Paint

In addition, there are mental and physical signs to look out for, according to MedicineNet:

  • Intoxication (similar to alcohol intoxication)
  • Slurred speech or loss of coordination
  • Chemical odors around the individual
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Irritability or moodiness

The most obvious sign that someone has been huffing paint is the paint itself, which might be found on the individual’s face. Paint or paint cans may be missing from the household supply, or paint-covered rags may be found hidden or in the trash. The person who is huffing may frequent hardware supply stores or have empty paint cans in their car or garage.


Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

In the short-term, the person who is huffing paint may develop redness in and around the eyes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the individual may also experience dizziness, confusion, lack of coordination, belligerence, lethargy, muscle weakness, and stupor as a result of inhaling toluene.

The article from the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research indicates that long-term toluene abuse can result in cognitive impairment, including inability to concentrate, lowered IQ, memory loss, and impaired judgment. Damage to the brain’s white matter can also occur, causing neurological problems. Liver toxicity, kidney damage, and heart failure are also often found in people who have engaged in long-term, chronic paint huffing.

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Treatment for Inhalant Abuse

Emergency treatment may be necessary for people who have experienced acute inhalant intoxication by huffing paint. For chronic users, addiction treatment generally involves therapy and other education and instruction to help the individual learn to manage triggers and cravings for continued inhalant abuse. These therapies may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Peer support or 12-Step groups
  • Family therapy
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Motivational therapy

By fully engaging in these therapies and treatments, the individual can break the cycle of addiction to inhaling paint and avoid relapse to continued use of this dangerous illicit substance.

Last Updated on Sep 13, 2022
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