Volatile Substance Use


Volatile substances release fumes at room temperature. These include products such as petrol, paint, and glue. A large number of volatile substances are readily available, affordable, and easy to use. Misuse occurs when the fumes are deliberately inhaled to achieve intoxication.

Volatile substance use typically occurs in young adolescents engaged in short-term or occasional experimental use and marginalised young people who tend to be longer-term habitual users. There is no safe level of volatile substance use, which can have devastating effects on the health of users. Impacts also extend to the family and the wider community, often causing disruption disproportionate to the number of users. There are no medications available to treat inhalant dependence, with acute management consisting largely of monitoring, supportive, and symptomatic care.

It is important that all those working with at-risk groups, understand the impact of volatile substance use.

It is equally necessary to be able to recognise signs of possible substance misuse. Coordinated, early intervention responses may assist in minimising the harm to individuals, the spread of use through a community and the subsequent, sometimes devasting effects of volatile substance use on an entire community. This module is aimed at anyone working in an Aboriginal health service who provides care to those at risk or who are misusing volatile substances..

Learning Objectives

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Explain the impact of volatile substance use.
  • Recognise signs and symptoms that may indicate volatile substance use.
  • Understand how to manage an acute presentation of volatile substance use.
  • Identify when to escalate acute care.
  • Discuss options for post-acute care for volatile substance users.

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