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Household Intoxicants

Part one of a two-part series on easily accessed substances frequently abused by teens and young adults.

Many items easily accessed in most households or legally acquired online, at convenience stores, or in head shops, are now used by adolescents and young adults seeking a replacement for or complement to illegal drug or alcohol use.  This is because these household items and so-called “designer drugs” are often easier to gain access to and/or use undetected.  Although the legal risks of using these household items and designer drugs  are lower, the health risks should be considered equal to or greater than those of illegal drugs or alcohol.

Addiction, overdose, poisoning, brain and organ damage, and death can result from the abuse of these items as intoxicants.  Unlike better-known, regulated substances, the health risks and dosage implications of these chemicals are not well understood, increasing the risk of overdosing, negative medication interactions, and other unintended consequences.  In addition, less treatment knowledge is available for these substances when their abuse escalates to addiction or overdose.

Parents and others concerned with the safety of young people do well to understand trends in the use of legal and easily accessed intoxicants.  Information can help parents and others detect dangerous substance abuse and, just as importantly, engage their teen with accurate information and informed concern.


Following is a list of intoxicating household items often used by teens as a substitute or complement to illegal drugs or alcohol. This is by no means a comprehensive list and should be viewed only as a set of examples of the thousands of items teens may use to get high.

Aerosol Products and Other Inhalants

“Huffing” involves the inhalation of noxious household substances.  Glue or paint or other chemicals may be placed by in a baggie which is then placed over the mouth and breathed from.  Near-empty whipped cream canisters or other aerosol products may be inhaled directly or by using a baggie.  Other items, such as permanent markers gasoline or nail polish, may be sniffed to the point of intoxication as well.  All of these substances are poisons that can cause brain damage, organ failure, and death.  Since dosage is impossible to accurately regulate, this form of substance abuse may be likened to a form of deadly roulette.

Parent or Friend’s Medication

Teens may use their parent’s or friend’s prescription medications, either with or without regard to its intended use.  Dosage instructions are often increased to ensure an intoxicating effect, increasing the risk of overdose or toxicity.  Teen abusers typically do not take these medications with any understanding of potential drug-interaction issues and may take addictive substances in a manner that increases the likelihood of dependence.

Teen’s Own Medication

Many teens learn to use their prescribed medications—especially psychoactive medications—in a manner inconsistent with their physician’s instructions.  Often this involves cheeking medication so that it may be saved up over time and taken in a larger than prescribed dose.  Teen abusers of prescribed medication may also take their medication in a manner that speeds its delivery to the bloodstream—such as smoking it or chopping it into a fine powder and snorting it.  This can make an otherwise safe medication addictive, toxic, and deadly.

Spices and Plants

Nutmeg, mace, and other common spices and food items may also be consumed (drunk as a tea, smoked, eaten, or snorted) in quantities that cause an intoxicating effect.  Some of these substances have enough toxicity to cause severe side effects that can either act as a deterrent to future use or cause serious physical harm.  Certain types of wild lettuce, the seeds of morning glory plants, and many other common floras are also used by teens to get high.  Most of these substances can create dangerous or deadly toxicity when consumed in the wrong quantity. Some are treated with dangerous pesticides.

Cold Medicine

Cold medicines with dextromethorphan hydrobromide have surged in popularity as a preferred intoxicant among American teens.  These medications are easily accessed in home medicine chests and are consumed in excessive quantities to produce a euphoric and sometimes hallucinogenic effect.  Overdosing on these medications can lead to addiction, psychotic reactions, and death.