Solvent Abuse Facts, Information and Research

Re-Solv estimates that the social impact of solvent abuse costs the UK public purse over £346 million every year (view report, view infographic).

  •  There are likely to be in the region of 57,000 adults in England & Wales who have used glues, solvents, gas or aerosols in the past year.
  •  Over half a million 16-24 year-olds in England and Wales used nitrous oxide in 2017/18.
  •  4.4% of 11-15 year olds have used glue, gas, aerosols or solvents in the past year and 4% have used nitrous oxide.
  • There were 64 deaths associated with volatile substances in Great Britain in 2016.

Available information on the latest prevalence, treatment and mortality data is presented below.

Facts about prevalence of solvent abuse in the UK

Drug Misuse Declared: Findings from the 2009/10 British Crime Survey

  •  57,000 adults (aged 16 and over) in England & Wales had used glues, solvents, gas or aerosols in the past year
  •  17,000 had used in the past month

Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014

  •  1.5% of those surveyed had ever used volatile substances (2.5% male and 0.6% female)
  •  0.3% of 16-24 year-olds surveyed (0.3% male and 0.3% female) had used in the past year.

Drug Misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020
In terms of nitrous oxide use:

  •  2.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 (around 796,000 people) used nitrous oxide in 2019/20
  •  Use was highest among 16-24 year-olds at 8.7% (around 549,000 people)

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England – 2018

  •  Solvent abuse is the most common form of substance misuse among under-14s
  •  4.2% of 11-15 year-olds (4.1% boys and 4.8% girls) reported having used glue, gas, aerosols or solvents in the past year
  •  4.1% of 11-15 year-olds reported having used nitrous oxide

Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) 2018

  •  3% of 15 year-old boys and 1% of 15-year old girls reported having used gas, glue or other solvents in the past year.
  • 11% of 15 year-old boys and 7% of 15-year old girls reported having been offered gas, glue or other solvents in the past year.

The 2019 ESPAD Report

  •  7.2% of 15–16 year-old European students have used inhalants within their lifetime
  •  The UK did not contribute to the 2019 report but the average UK use for both in 2012 was 10%

Facts about solvent abuse mortality in the UK

Deaths related to volatile substances and helium in Great Britain: 2001 to 2016 registrations

  •  In 2016, there were 64 deaths related to volatile substances registered in Great Britain.
  •  Over 80% of these deaths were males
  •  Deaths are most common in those aged 20-39 years of age
  •  Gas fuels are responsible for over half of all deaths

25 Years of Volatile Substance Abuse (Butland et al, 2011)
Secondary analysis of the VSA mortality database at St George’s, University of London. This report addressed gaps in knowledge about VSA deaths in the years 1983-2007, including circumstances of death and gender and age profiles. An article based on the mortality research above was published in Addiction journal. You can access the Abstract here.

Trends in Death Associated with Abuse of Volatile Substances
This comprehensive annual report ran from 1971-2009.

Facts about solvent abuse treatment in the UK

Annual National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) Reports

  •  359 adults were in treatment services for VSA between April 2016 – March 2017.
  •  430 young people were in treatment services for VSA between April 2016 – March 2017
  •  65 adults and 34 young people in secure settings received help for solvent use.

All NTDMS reports are accessible here.

Facts about solvent abuse policy

The Psychoactive Substances Act, 2016
An overview of the Psychoactive Substances Act and supporting documents.

ACMD Advice on Nitrous Oxide
March, 2015

‘Out of Sight? … not out of mind’: Children, Young People and Volatile Substance Abuse
DH, HO, DFeS, 2005
A Framework for VSA

Substance Misuse Treatment Framework (SMTF)
Prevention and Education of Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA)
Welsh Assembly Government, 2011

Other solvent abuse research

Could excessive use of aerosols in a confined space result in exposure to lethal levels of butane?
Summarising research carried out by TICTAC Communications Ltd, St George’s, University of London and the British Aerosol Manufacturers’ Association in 2009.

Research commissioned by Re-Solv

The Social Impact of Solvent Abuse (view report, view infographic)
Bates Wells Braithwaite, 2017
The first report to set out the social impact and model the financial costs of solvent abuse felt by society.

25 Years of Volatile Substance Abuse
Butland et al, 2011
In 2011, Re-Solv completed a three-year research project into volatile substance abuse (‘VSA’) in the UK, carried out in partnership with St George’s, University of London with funding from the Big Lottery. The following briefing papers summarise the key findings:

Tackling VSA more effectively by meeting professionals’ needs
Richard Ives, 2009
A Big Lottery commissioned report for Re-Solv by educari, looking at the information professionals need to establish the way forward for VSA service delivery in the UK.

Tackling VSA in Scotland: Interviews with young people
Marina Clayton, 2007
Interviews with young people who are ‘looked after’ and live in a residential establishment. The young people talk about their experience of ‘buzzing’ or ‘sniffing’ solvents.

Crime and VSA
Jon McVey, 2005
A study into the association between VSA and criminal behaviour.

Educating your mind using your funny bone
Kay Carter, 2005
Research conducted by Re-Solv’s Youth Liaison Officer into engaging young people with humour.

Social services training needs in relation to volatile substance abuse by young people looked after by local authorities
Jane Boylan, Suzy Braye and Claire Worley, 2001
A report by Staffordshire University Institute of Social Work on a series of focus group discussions with social workers, residential and foster carers and young people.

Survey on Test Purchasing Campaigns to Enforce Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999
LACORS, 2002
A survey carried out on behalf of Re-Solv to ascertain the level of enforcement action on test purchasing in regard to cigarette lighter refills, under the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999.

‘Buzzing, Sniffing, Tooting’, Volatile Substance Abuse and looked after young people
Worley, 2001
A literature review relating to either volatile substance abuse specifically, or substance abuse, in relation to young people and vulnerable young people looked after by the local authority.

Reviewed: September 2021
Review date: September 2022

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