Management of substance abuse

Volatile solvent use

Volatile solvent use


The deliberate inhalation of volatile solvents and aerosols is an increasing problem worldwide. The ready availability, minimal cost and rapid mood-altering features of volatile solvents make these psychoactive substances particularly attractive to young people. Yet, there are clear dangers: Volatile solvents produce effects similar to anaesthetics, and can result in death following acute intoxication. Some volatile solvent users become dependent and develop chronic and disabling problems. Contrary to popular belief, the use of volatile solvents is not solely a problem of deviant groups.

Compared to other psychoactive substances, the use of volatile solvents has been relatively neglected by policy-makers and researchers. This may be due in part to the ease of accessibility. Volatile solvents can be purchased legally and inexpensively, and volatile solvent users do not encounter procurement problems that face users of other psychoactive substances.

It is worth noting that volatile solvent use is particularly associated with young people, and in certain countries, with particular groups of young people such as street children and indigenous populations. Because there are many products that can be used to achieve intoxication which is readily available in the home and in a range of shops inexpensively, volatile solvents are often the frist substance used by young people.

WHO convened an international consultation in Geneva from 7-9 December 1992 to determine the extent and nature of the use of volatile solvents in various regions of the world. Representatives from seven countries (Bangladesh, Cote d-Ivoire, Guatemala, Morocco, New Zealand, Philippines and Romania) attended the consultation. The purpose of the meeting was to review local and national responses to the problem, agree on a methodology and prepare instruments to assess and monitor the situation and evaluate intervention activities in different regions of the world.

::Documents available

Volatile solvents abuse: a global overview

This report provides an overview of current views about the problem of the use of volatile substances to achieve intoxication in a variety of settings. It includes discussions on the history and context of volatile solvent use, prevalence, health effects, prevention approaches, risk factors and targeted interventions, approaches to treatment and, monitoring and evaluation of interventions.

Volatile solvent use: a strategy for community involvement

The present report builds upon the prior publication by outlining a comprehensive strategy for community involvement in reducing volatile solvent use problems. Within the proposed strategy, the use of volatile solvents is viewed as a potential problem for every young person. It suggests a comprehensive approach to reduce volatile-solvent-related problems based on community involvement and participation of other social forces, including the private sector (e.g. volatile solvent producing industries), researchers, police, the media, nongovernmental organizations, and the public health sector. The overall approach is divided into three main steps: Preparation, Project Implementation and Monitoring & Evaluation.

Only available in hardcopy