Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources
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 types of inhalants are nothing more than ordinary substances like gasoline or paint thinner. An inhalant is something that a person can inhale fumes from 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
An inhalant addiction can take hold even after using inhalants just once. This is because the euphoria they create is very powerful and instant. Anything that travels through the lungs will diffuse into the blood and travel to the brain within a second or two. This fast-acting ability can also cause some serious side effects.
There are a few medical inhalants out there, including nitrites and nitrous oxide. Nitrites are used to improve blood flow, while nitrous oxide is often used in dentist offices for light sedation.
Inhalants are not part of the Controlled Substances Act, so they do not have a classification. 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.
While they aren’t as commonly used as other drugs, inhalantsthey 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 are not meant to be inhaled, like paint thinner or gas.
Inhalant Quick Reference
|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. 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 that have fumes in them. 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
Many people think that using inhalants is “fun” because they can produce a very strong sense of euphoria. But 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 because they often feel nauseous.
Can You Overdose on Inhalants?
An overdose can happen to both new and experienced users. Certain fumes not only target 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 down so much that the person stops breathing or their heart stops beating.
Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Overdose
Common symptoms include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hallucinations and delusions
What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on inhalants:
To ensure the person’s best chance of survival, you should call 911 right away. Stay with the person and make sure they’re as safe as possible until medical help arrives.
Dangers of Long-Term Inhalant Use
Inhalants have a seriously negative effect on the brain and the rest of the nervous system. They slow down the nervous system and make it difficult to speak properly and remember things. 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
Illicit inhalants should be avoided, and they certainly should not be taken with any other substances. 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. 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 kind of 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
Since most inhalants are everyday products like paint thinner or glue, they often aren’t cut with anything. However, when getting inhalants off the street, they may be mixed with other inhalants.
Inhalants Addiction Treatment
Getting over an addiction can be difficult, but professional treatment can help. Treatment often lasts several months, but some people may need a year or more of treatment to fully recover. The longer you get treated, the more you will have to pay. If you choose outpatient treatment, your insurance will likely pay for a lot of it.
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. But there may also be art therapy and mindfulness treatments at many rehab centers.
Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people who use inhalants already have a substance use disorder. 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
- Withdrawals last a week or two for most people
- 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, and so on
- If applicable, link to any relevant [drug]-specific withdrawal treatment pages
Drugs Used in Inhalant Withdrawal Management
Baclofen may be used in withdrawal management. OTC pain medication may also help reduce the discomfort of the withdrawal process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many young adults try inhalants because they think they would be fun, but few realize how dangerous they can be. It is possible to die instantly upon inhaling a harsh substance like paint thinner or spray paint. This is because inhalants drastically stimulate the nervous system and heart. This could lead to a fatal heart attack or stroke.
They can also be fatal in the long-term or when mixed with other illicit substances.
Many people use inhalants, but especially young people. Teenagers and young adults may inhale glue fumes to see what would happen. Others may take larger risks and try inhaling paint thinner, drain cleaner, and other powerful substances.
Inhalants can cause permanent damage to the brain and internal organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, and liver. The lungs are often the first to suffer since inhalants have to travel through their small branches before reaching the blood.
The brain may also degrade after many years, which can lead to cognitive decline. This permanent damage can often be fatal or at least affect a person’s life in a negative way.
Are you or a loved one struggling with Inhalant Usage?
 NIDA. 2023, January 23. What is the scope of inhalant use in the United States?. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-scope-inhalant-abuse May 22, 2023.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 29). High risk substance use in youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/substance-use/index.htm May 22, 2023.
 NIDA. 2022, December 19. What are the short- and long-term effects of inhalant use?. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-are-short-long-term-effects-inhalant-use on May 22, 2023.