Long Term Effects of Spray Paint

Inhaling spray paint can be fatal.
Inhaling spray paint can be fatal. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Spray paint is an aerosol that is often inhaled to produce mind altering effects. It is included in a list by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) of inhalants, along with volatile solvents, gases and nitrates. They are all drugs that are rarely, if ever, taken any other way than by inhaling. NIDA did a survey in 2010 which showed that 8.1 percent of eighth graders, 6.1 percent of tenth graders, and 3.4 percent of twelfth graders reported use in the past year. Only 0.1 percent of those admitted for substance abuse treatment use inhalants.

Inhaling Methods

Inhalants such as spray paint are either sniffed from the containers, sprayed into the mouth or nose, huffed from a rag soaked with the inhalant stuck in the mouth, sniffed from a bag filled with fumes, or inhaled from balloons filled with the substance. Abusers often inhale repeatedly because the high from the inhalant only lasts a few minutes.

Signs of Use

If you suspect someone of abusing inhalants check his breath and clothing for chemical smell. Look for paint stains on his skin or clothes. Slurred speech, disorientation, nausea, lack of appetite, coordination or focus are short-term effects to look for. The individual might also be lightheaded, delusional, drowsy, have hallucinations or have a headache that won’t go away.

Long-Term Body Damage

Long-term abuse of inhalants may result in hypoxia caused from loss of oxygen to the body because the air in the lungs is replaced by the inhalant. The most usual place affected by hypoxia is the brain. It can cause memory problems, including being able to learn something new or just carrying on a simple conversation. Abuse of inhalants can also break down the myelin which protects the nerve fibers. Without the protection of myelin, nerve fibers cannot carry their messages properly which can lead to tremors, muscle spasms and problems with such things as walking, talking and bending.


Repeated inhalation of spray paint can cause heart failure and death within minutes. It can even occur to a young healthy person inhaling just one time. It is called “sudden sniffing death.” Users inhaling from a bag or in a closed area can die from choking or suffocation. The oxygen in the lungs is displaced and the user becomes unconscious and stops breathing.

Irreversible Effects

There are many harmful irreversible effects caused from repeatedly inhaling spray paint. Hearing loss and peripheral neuropathy, which causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet, are two of them. It can also cause damage to the vital organs and the nervous system. Damage that occurs to the kidneys, liver, heart or lungs may be permanent.

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