Volatile substance addiction

When we talk of drug addiction, usually the first things that come to mind are illicit substances such as cocaine and heroin. Many people do not realise, however, that common household items and legally purchased substances can also be abused, with potentially extremely dangerous side-effects. Substances such as laughing gas, butane gas, spray deodorants, and glue are amongst the most frequently abused and can be highly addictive.

On this page, we will explore volatile substance abuse, as well as the side-effects and potential risks involved. You will also find advice on how our private rehab clinics can help you or a loved one struggling with volatile substance abuse.

What is volatile substance abuse?

Volatile substance abuse refers to the intentional inhalation of volatile chemicals with the purpose of getting ‘high’. These chemicals are found in everyday products, and result in a fast-acting but short high.

You may be under the impression that drug abuse and addiction only refers to illegal drugs, but this isn’t the case. Volatile substances are legal, and can be found in items such as spray deodorants, glue, deodorants, or marker pens. As a cheap and easily available option, volatile substance abuse often goes under the radar.

With regular use, volatile substance abuse can develop into an addiction. This is characterised by the compulsive use of volatile substances, despite being aware of the negative consequences it has on the individual’s life. Volatile substance abuse and addiction can be very harmful to both the individual and to those around them. It can affect a person’s physical and mental health, relationships, and work or education.

How does volatile substance abuse and addiction develop?

There are various paths to volatile substance abuse and addiction – it is a complex condition with every individual experiencing different underlying causes and triggers. For some people, addiction can be genetic and run in families. For others, it can be caused by trauma, a history of abuse, or by underlying mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. However addiction forms, it can have a huge impact on people’s lives and those of their loved ones.

What are the signs of volatile substance abuse?

Recognising the signs of volatile substance abuse in loved one can be difficult, as the items used may be found day-to day in your household. Some signs that may point towards volatile substance abuse include:

  • Chemical smell
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Problems with coordination
  • Euphoria
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations

If you suspect that a loved one may be abusing volatile substances, it is important to talk to them calmly, and in a non-judgmental manner. If you need help or advice, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team who can assist you and offer support. You can call us on 0808 239 5541.

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What are volatile substances?

Volatile substances can be found in everyday household products and can be used to experience a high. While they are not intended to be used as drugs, we frequently see people abusing them in this way. Volatile substances are absorbed into the blood very quickly when they are inhaled, which means they have a rapid and powerful effect.

Some examples of volatile substances include:

Butane gas

A colourless, odourless and flammable liquid. It is used in cigarette lighters, as well as in a number of household products like aerosols and deodorants. When inhaled, its effects include euphoria, dizziness and light-headedness. Butane gas can be extremely dangerous when it is inhaled, as it can cause suffocation, heart attacks and even death.

Spray deodorants

Deodorants contain a number of volatile chemicals, including butane and propane. When these chemicals are inhaled, they can cause dizziness, light-headedness and hallucinations. Abusing spray deodorants can also be extremely harmful to your health, as they can damage your lungs and throat and even cause death.


Another common household product that contains volatile chemicals. It is usually taken by sniffing or inhaling the fumes. The effects of glue also include dizziness, light-headedness and hallucinations, but it carries all the health risks of other volatile substances.

Laughing gas

Also known as nitrous oxide, is a colourless and odourless gas that is used in various surgical and dental procedures because it has a numbing effect. It can be bought legally in the form of whipped cream chargers and is often inhaled recreationally for its intoxicating effects.

What is laughing gas?

When laughing gas is inhaled, it can cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation. It is often taken by filling a balloon with the gas and inhaling it. Laughing gas is frequently used as a way to get high at parties or clubs. The effects of laughing gas only last for a few minutes, during which time the user may feel light-headed, dizzy, and laugh uncontrollably. Laughing gas has various nicknames, including ‘happy gas’, ‘hippy crack’ and ‘nos’.

Is laughing gas dangerous?

Laughing gas abuse is very dangerous and can be potentially fatal. In the short term, laughing gas can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting. In the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including brain damage, heart attacks and asphyxiation. Laughing gas is particularly dangerous if the user has also been drinking alcohol or taking other types of substances, as it can increase the risk of death.

What are inhalants?

An inhalant is a drug that is inhaled in order to get high. They affect the brain very quickly because they are absorbed into the bloodstream and can cause feelings of euphoria, dizziness and light-headedness. Some of the most addictive and dangerous inhalants can seem innocuous as they are often found in many household products. Therefore, since inhalants are easy to purchase, it is very easy for a person to use them regularly and thus develop a dependency. Inhalant abuse can cause critical health damage, so educating yourself on the harmful nature of inhalants is vital.

Air fresheners

These also contain a number of harmful chemicals, including limonene and linalool, which can damage all the major organs.

Are inhalants addictive?

Inhalants are highly addictive and can lead to dependency very quickly. Inhalants are easy to purchase, which means it is very easy for a person to use them regularly. The more someone uses inhalants, the more tolerant they become to the effects, and therefore the more they need to use to get high. Addiction often occurs when heavy use becomes compulsive. Unlike illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine, inhalants are cheap and legal and can be bought in shops or online, so it is easy to feed the compulsive need.

Is volatile substance abuse dangerous?

Volatile substance abuse can be extremely dangerous, and even life-threatening. Not only is there potential for addiction and associated health problems, but there is also the risk of death from accidental overdose or as a result of mixing these substances with alcohol or other drugs.

Loss of consciousness, asphyxiation and heart attacks can occur very quickly when abusing volatile substances, and people may not be able to get help in time. This is particularly true when using laughing gas, as it can cause people to become deeply relaxed and unaware of their surroundings.

Who is at risk of volatile substance abuse and addiction?

Volatile substance abuse is particularly dangerous because these products are so easily accessible and affordable. This makes them particularly attractive to young people, who may have limited resources to buy other drugs or are curious to see what it is like.

Volatile substance abuse may also impact those who are already struggling with other forms of addiction, as they provide a quick and easy way to get high.

Volatile substance abuse detox

Volatile substance abuse detox refers to the initial detoxification that the body undergoes once you stop using the drug. During this stage, your body will expel any harmful substances and you may experience some withdrawal symptoms. These can include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Psychosis

Whilst everyone is different, you can expect the withdrawal period to last for approximately one week. Psychological withdrawal symptoms may persist for much longer, however, and this is why you should consider a holistic drug treatment programme that will aim to tackle every aspect of your addiction.

If your volatile substance abuse is particularly severe, your doctor may prescribe medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms, for example, medications that help with nausea, insomnia, anxiety, or depression.

It is recommended that you seek guidance from professionals throughout detox to ensure your safety and make your experience more comfortable.

Volatile substance abuse rehab

Unfortunately, volatile substance abuse detox is only the beginning of your recovery. The next phase aims to tackle the psychological reasons for your volatile substance abuse, looking at the events and experiences that may have led you to start using.

During volatile substance abuse rehab, you will take part in a number of therapies designed to help you overcome your addiction and maintain a clean and healthy life going forwards. You will learn tools to prevent relapse, as well as learn coping mechanisms making you better equipped to handle triggers in your day-to-day life.

At our UKAT facilities, you will be surrounded by others who understand you, a team of experts with vast amounts of knowledge, and a secure environment that helps you to feel safe and relaxed. All of this combined gives you the opportunity to fully focus on your recovery and increases your chances of succeeding.

Help for volatile substance abuse

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from volatile substance abuse and addiction, help is available. UKAT offers a number of specialist facilities that treat volatile substance abuse. At our private drug rehabilitation centres, we take a holistic approach to addiction treatment providing all our clients with comprehensive inpatient programmes. These include addiction detox, a range of different addiction therapies and a full aftercare programme to ensure that our clients have the best possible chance of overcoming their addiction to drugs.

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Volatile substance abuse has the potential to cause serious, and even life-threatening health problems. It is important to be aware of the dangers of these substances and to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction.

For more information about UKAT’s private drug rehab clinics, get in touch with us so we can discuss your treatment options. Call our team today for friendly and earnest support.

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Frequently asked questions

How bad is volatile substance abuse in the UK?
Studies have shown that 57,000 adults (aged 16+) have used glues, solvents, gas, or aerosols in the past. A recent study also showed that 2.4% of adults have used laughing gas, with use highest among 16 – 24 year olds. Solvent abuse is the most common form of substance abuse in teenagers, with 4.2% of 11 – 15 year olds reported having used glue, gas, aerosols, or solvents. These statistics sadly represent a clear ongoing issue with volatile substance abuse in the UK, which is especially prevalent among young people.
Do I need rehab for volatile substance abuse?
If you have found yourself trapped in a harmful cycle of volatile substance abuse and are unable to stop, rehab can help you to break free. Despite common misconceptions, volatile substances can be highly addictive, and you may find it difficult to quit without the professional help you can find in a rehab programme. Don’t wait for volatile substances to cause irreparable damage to your health and wellbeing – our team is here to guide you.
How can I tell if someone is abusing volatile substances?
Volatile substance abuse can be particularly tricky to spot – you will not find typical drug paraphernalia, but instead regular household items. The signs related to volatile substance abuse may appear similar to alcohol abuse, for example, slurred speech, un-coordinated, dizzy, and feeling nauseous. It is possible that you will find empty aerosol containers, empty nitrous oxide containers and balloons, or other items associated with volatile substance abuse.