Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

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Last Medical Reviewer On: March 28, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources
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    Inhalants come in many different forms, and most of them will cause serious damage to your lungs and the rest of your body. A few are used for medical purposes. But what happens when you use an inhalant and become addicted to it? What are the risks?

    What Are Inhalants?

    Many inhalants are nothing more than ordinary substances like gasoline or paint thinner. An inhalant is something from which a person can inhale fumes and experience a feeling of euphoria. Some people may try to inhale spray paint, glue fumes, and other aerosol substances. But even if you only use inhalants for a short time, they can cause serious damage.

    Side Effects of Inhalants

    The development of an addiction to inhalants varies among individuals and may not necessarily occur after a single use. Factors such as frequency of use, genetic predisposition, and personal circumstances play a significant role in addiction risk. Substances inhaled through the lungs can quickly enter the bloodstream and may reach the brain within a few seconds to minutes, depending on the substance and the individual’s physiology. This fast-acting ability can also cause some serious side effects.

    A few medical inhalants exist, including nitrites and nitrous oxide. Nitrites improve blood flow, while nitrous oxide is often used in dentist offices for light sedation.

    While many inhalants are not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act due to their common presence in household or industrial products, certain inhalants used medically, such as nitrous oxide, are regulated under specific provisions. Common side effects include dizziness, nausea, muscle pain, headaches, confusion, and mood changes. In 2021 alone, 2.2 million people in the United States used inhalants within the past year.[1]

    While they aren’t as commonly used as other drugs, inhalants can still be a big problem. They go by names such as room odorizer, head cleaner, rush, and leather cleaner.

    How Are Inhalants Taken?

    Inhalants are breathed through the lungs. This creates an immediate effect compared to swallowing drugs, which have to travel through your stomach before they can be absorbed into the blood. Most inhalants, like paint thinner or gas, are not meant to be inhaled.

    Inhalant Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Inhalants Nitrous oxide, nitrites, leather cleaner, rush, room odorizer DEA Schedule: N/A Inhalation

    Statistics on Inhalant Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    15% of high school students have used illicit drugs in the past, including inhalants.[2] This kind of drug misuse often begins early in life and may continue as a person grows older. This addiction may start by misusing ordinary products like bottles of whipped cream or glue with fumes. Once an addiction like this forms, it can be hard to stop it. This is why professional treatment for inhalants exists.


    Effects of Inhalant Abuse

    While some individuals may use inhalants seeking euphoria due to their rapid and intense effects, the associated health risks and potential for serious, long-term damage highlight the dangerous nature of inhalant abuse. However, this euphoria is very short and will often lead to adverse effects. The effects include muscle weakness, difficulty thinking, memory problems, speech problems, depression, anxiety, and nausea.

    Some people may lose weight because they don’t have an appetite or often feel nauseous.

    Can You Overdose on Inhalants?

    Inhalant overdose can occur among both new and experienced users, regardless of their tolerance levels, due to the unpredictable effects of inhalants on the heart and respiratory system. Certain fumes affect not only the nervous system but also the heart. This can cause the heart to stop or become damaged. Some fumes may also slow the breathing and heart rate so much that the person stops breathing or their heart stops beating.

    Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Overdose

    Common symptoms include the following:

    • Confusion
    • Panic
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Hallucinations and delusions
    • Coma
    • Seizures
    • Death
    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on inhalants:

    To ensure the person’s best chance of survival, you should call 911 immediately. Stay with the person and ensure they’re safe until medical help arrives.

    Dangers of Long-Term Inhalant Use

    Inhalant abuse can cause significant harm to the brain and nervous system, leading to cognitive impairments, memory issues, and motor function problems, among other health issues. They slow down the nervous system and make speaking properly difficult and remembering things difficult. Some may develop internal organ damage, hearing loss, and difficulty breathing due to lung damage. Cognitive decline is another common issue.

    Mixing Inhalants with Other Drugs

    The use of inhalants, particularly those not intended for human consumption, is dangerous and should be avoided. Mixing inhalants with other substances can significantly increase the risk of adverse reactions, including sudden death. This can lead to sudden death, seizures, overdoses, and a variety of other grave problems.

    Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

    Adults who use inhalants have a higher likelihood of having lifelong substance use disorders compared to those who don’t use them.[3] This addiction may start at a young age by inhaling glue or the fumes from a whipped cream can. While it may start innocently enough, any inhalant abuse can lead to serious addiction problems later in life

    How Addictive Are Inhalants?

    Some inhalants are more addictive than others. Certain harsh chemicals, like paint thinner, can cause an extremely intense high followed by a crash. This crash spurs the person to seek out more inhalants so they can experience that euphoria again.

    Signs of Addiction to Inhalants

    Some people may start using inhalants recreationally, but they may soon find that they can’t go without them. They may start having cravings and withdrawals when they can’t get their drugs. They may also become irritable and have mood swings. Others may always be looking for new inhalants so that they never run out.

    Inhalant Addiction and Mental Health

    Because of the way inhalants affect the brain, their use can lead to a variety of mental health issues. Many people will experience cognitive decline after using these substances for many years. They may also experience mood and behavioral changes. Some may develop depression or anxiety. Others may have suicidal thoughts or become violent toward others while they are intoxicated.

    Cutting Agents Used for Inhalants

    Most inhalants, being common household or industrial products, are typically not adulterated with other substances. However, there can be exceptions, particularly with products sold illegally for the purpose of inhalation.

    Inhalants Addiction Treatment

    Getting over an addiction can be difficult, but professional treatment can help. The duration of treatment for inhalant addiction varies widely among individuals, with some requiring only a few months and others needing a year or longer for full recovery. Factors influencing treatment length include the severity of addiction, the presence of co-occurring disorders, and individual response to therapy. The longer you get treated, the more you will have to pay. Insurance coverage for outpatient treatment varies by provider and plan. It’s important to check with your insurance company to understand what addiction treatment services are covered and to what extent.

    If you are concerned about the severity of your addiction, you can opt for intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization programs. Much of the treatment will focus on therapy and getting to the root of your addiction issues.

    Therapies Used in Inhalant Addiction Treatment

    The most common therapies used to treat inhalant addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and holistic therapy. However, many rehab centers may also offer art therapy and mindfulness treatments.

    Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

    Individuals who abuse inhalants may often have pre-existing substance use disorders or develop them as a result of their inhalant use. It’s crucial for treatment plans to address all concurrent substance use disorders for effective recovery. This spurs them to continue abusing inhalants and other drugs. Substance abuse disorders are often lifelong problems that people have to learn how to control.

    Some people who use inhalants may also have depression or anxiety and want to use these drugs to make themselves feel better. Therapy, of course, is a much better way of doing this without any negative consequences.

    Inhalant Withdrawal Management Treatment

    • The duration of withdrawal symptoms from inhalants can vary, with many individuals experiencing symptoms for a week or two, though this can differ based on the severity of the addiction and individual health factors.
    • Detox treatment puts a heavy emphasis on therapy and understanding the root of your addiction
    • The cost will vary depending on your program, the time of your stay, etc.
    • If applicable, link to any relevant [drug]-specific withdrawal treatment pages

    Drugs Used in Inhalant Withdrawal Management

    Baclofen, among other medications, may be considered for managing withdrawal symptoms in some cases, under close medical supervision. Medications for inhalant withdrawal management should be tailored to the individual’s specific health needs and symptoms. OTC pain medication may also help reduce the discomfort of the withdrawal process.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can Inhalants be Fatal?
    Who Uses Inhalants?
    Can Inhalants Cause Permanent Damage?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Inhalant Usage?

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