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Understanding Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Last Medical Review On: July 17, 2024
Updated On: June 15, 2024
7 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

Inhalant abuse involves the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors or volatile substances for their psychoactive effects.[1] These substances, commonly found in household products such as paint thinner, glue, and aerosol sprays, can produce a rapid high when breathed in. While inhalants are often readily accessible and inexpensive, their recreational use poses serious risks, including addiction, overdose, and even death.

Inhalant Addiction

Key Points

  • Inhalants, commonly found in household products like paint thinner and glue, are inhaled for their psychoactive effects, leading to rapid highs.
  • Despite being readily accessible and inexpensive, inhalants pose serious risks, including addiction, overdose, and death.
  • Signs of inhalant abuse include chemical odors, sudden mood changes, and physical symptoms like headaches and nosebleeds.
  • The prevalence of inhalant use is concerning, with millions reporting use, especially among adolescents, highlighting the need for prevention efforts.
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    What Are Inhalants?

    Inhalants, a broad category of substances encompassing various volatile chemicals, are commonly found in household and industrial products. When inhaled, they produce mind-altering effects by affecting the central nervous system.[2] While they vary widely in composition, inhalants often include solvents, aerosol sprays, gases, and nitrites.

    Traditionally, inhalants have been used for their quick and easily accessible high. Inhalant abuse typically involves sniffing or huffing fumes directly from containers, bags, or rags soaked in the substance. The effects of inhalants range from euphoria and dizziness to hallucinations and loss of consciousness. However, these effects come with significant risks, including damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs.

    Despite the dangers associated with inhalant abuse, the prevalence of inhalant use remains a concern. Of the 1.8 million individuals aged 12 or older who engaged in inhalant use for recreational purposes in 2015, approximately 684,000 were adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.[3]

    Household products commonly misused as inhalants are typically legally accessible for their intended purposes. Several state legislatures have implemented restrictions on their sale to minors in an attempt to deter using them inappropriately. Despite not being regulated under the Controlled Substances Act, inhalants pose significant risks to individuals who misuse them.[4]

    Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

    Inhalant addiction and abuse are rooted in the substances’ direct impact on the central nervous system, often leading to dependence and addiction.[5] Inhalants exert their effects by altering neurotransmitter activity in the brain, resulting in euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception. These psychoactive effects contribute to the potential for addiction, as individuals may chase the pleasurable sensations induced by inhalant use.

    The accessibility of inhalants in various forms, such as aerosols and solvents, makes them readily available for misuse. Additionally, the perception of inhalants as common household products may lead to the misconception that they are less harmful than illicit drugs or prescription medications, further fueling their abuse.

    Inhalants Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Inhalants
    Commercial & Street Names Gluey, huff, rush, bagging
    DEA Schedule n/a
    Administration Inhaled from correction fluid, felt-tip markers, nitrous oxide, spray paint, hair spray, propane, butane lighters, deodorant, laughing gas, nail polish removers, volatile solvents, and more


    Statistics on Inhalant Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 0.8% of individuals aged 12 or older, totaling around 2.2 million people, reported using inhalants within the past 12 months in 2021.[6] This prevalence also extends to younger demographics: the 2022 Monitoring the Future Survey revealed that 3.6% of 8th, 2.4% of 10th, and 1.8% of 12th graders had inhalant use within the same timeframe.[7]

    Moreover, despite the majority of adolescents aged 12 to 17 abstaining from inhalant use for recreational purposes, approximately 684,000 adolescents within this age range admitted to using inhalants in the past year to achieve a high.[8] This underscores the vulnerability of adolescents across various demographics, including race/ethnicity and geographic location, to inhalant use, emphasizing the importance of targeted prevention and intervention efforts.

    Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

    Inhalant addiction and abuse pose significant risks to both physical and mental health.[9] Prolonged inhalant use can result in a range of adverse effects, including but not limited to respiratory issues, neurological damage, liver and kidney damage, and cardiac complications. These health consequences can manifest as chronic conditions or acute emergencies, highlighting the severity of inhalant abuse.

    Inhalant addiction can lead to psychological symptoms such as mood swings, agitation, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. Individuals struggling with inhalant addiction may experience disruptions in their social, academic, and occupational functioning, further exacerbating the impact on their overall well-being.

    The cessation of inhalant use can also trigger withdrawal symptoms, compounding the challenges of recovery.[10] These symptoms may include irritability, insomnia, nausea, tremors, and cravings, making it difficult for individuals to break free from the cycle of dependence.

    Despite the known risks associated with inhalant abuse, regulatory oversight of these substances remains limited. This lack of regulation contributes to the proliferation of inhalant abuse and exacerbates concerns regarding the purity and potency of inhalant products available in the market.

    Effects of Inhalant Abuse

    Physical Health Effects

    Inhalant abuse poses significant risks to physical health, with a myriad of symptoms and complications arising from its misuse. Chronic inhalant use can lead to respiratory issues, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, as well as lung damage and even respiratory failure in severe cases.[11] Furthermore, inhalant abuse can result in neurological damage, manifested as impaired coordination, tremors, and seizures. Individuals may also experience gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, along with headaches and dizziness.

    Risks and Complications

    Inhalant abuse carries the risk of both tolerance and dependence, wherein individuals develop a tolerance to the effects of inhalants over time and may experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. Inhalant dependence can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior and difficulty controlling use despite negative consequences.

    Additionally, inhalant overdose is a grave concern, particularly when individuals inhale large quantities of volatile substances. Symptoms of inhalant overdose may include loss of consciousness, cardiac arrhythmias, and even sudden death due to asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.[12]

    Inhalant Addiction and Mental Health

    Inhalant addiction can have significant implications for mental health, amplifying pre-existing conditions and instigating new ones. Prolonged inhalant abuse may trigger mood disorders, such as anxiety, irritability, and depression, which can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life.[13]

    Individuals grappling with inhalant addiction may encounter cognitive challenges, including impaired judgment, memory deficits, and difficulty with concentration and decision-making. These cognitive impairments can further exacerbate mental health struggles, hindering individuals’ ability to navigate life’s challenges effectively.

    Addressing the complex interplay between inhalant addiction and mental health necessitates comprehensive interventions that encompass both substance abuse treatment and mental health support. By addressing underlying psychological issues and providing coping strategies to manage cravings and triggers, individuals can work towards recovery and rebuild a fulfilling and healthy life.

    Inhalant Addiction Treatment

    Treatment for inhalant addiction is highly individualized and tailored to address each individual’s specific needs and circumstances. The cost of inhalant addiction treatment can vary significantly, influenced by factors such as the type of program (inpatient, outpatient, or residential), duration of treatment, and additional services provided (such as counseling, therapy, and medical supervision).

    The duration of inhalant addiction treatment can also vary depending on several factors, including the severity of addiction, co-occurring mental health conditions, and progress in recovery. Treatment may range from several weeks to several months or longer to address underlying issues contributing to inhalant abuse, develop coping strategies, and promote sustained recovery.

    Regardless of the specific treatment approach, comprehensive care that integrates medical, psychological, and social support is essential for addressing inhalant addiction effectively. This may include detoxification, counseling, behavioral therapy, support groups, and aftercare planning to facilitate long-term recovery and prevent relapse.

    Inhalant Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    If you or someone you know is grappling with inhalant addiction, embarking on the path to recovery necessitates seeking appropriate treatment. Inhalant addiction treatment encompasses various levels of care, each tailored to address the unique needs and challenges associated with addiction.

    At our facilities, we offer the following levels of care for inhalant addiction treatment:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Medical detoxification is administered under the close supervision of medical professionals, enabling individuals to safely eliminate substances from their bodies while managing withdrawal symptoms effectively.
    • Medically Managed Care: For individuals necessitating intensive medical attention and oversight, medically managed care offers a structured environment where round-the-clock monitoring and support are provided by trained medical professionals. This level of care proves especially beneficial for those grappling with severe inhalant addiction or concurrent medical conditions warranting close supervision and intervention.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Inpatient residential treatment offers individuals a supportive, structured environment that fosters recovery. Clients reside full-time at the treatment facility, receiving comprehensive care and support from a multidisciplinary team of professionals. Inpatient treatment provides a highly structured schedule of therapy sessions, group activities, and support groups, enabling individuals to concentrate fully on their recovery journey without distractions or triggers from the outside world.

    Therapies Used in Inhalant Addiction Treatment


    Alpas provides a variety of evidence-based treatment programs to tackle inhalant addiction and assist individuals in their recovery journey. Each therapy modality is customized to align with our client’s specific needs and preferences:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a frequently employed therapeutic method centered on recognizing and confronting detrimental thought patterns and behaviors linked to addiction. In CBT sessions, individuals acquire coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, and tactics to navigate cravings and triggers effectively. This process empowers individuals to cultivate more constructive thought patterns and behaviors, fostering their journey toward recovery.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) merges cognitive-behavioral methods with mindfulness exercises, aiming to aid individuals in managing emotions, enhancing interpersonal connections, and honing distress tolerance abilities. Especially advantageous for those contending with emotional volatility and impulsivity—frequent hurdles in addiction rehabilitation—DBT offers valuable support in navigating the complexities of recovery.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Motivational Interviewing (MI) involves a client-centered therapeutic method dedicated to augmenting motivation and readiness for transformation. Employing empathetic listening and collaborative goal establishment, therapists assist individuals in examining their ambivalence regarding change, pinpointing personal values and aspirations, and fortifying their dedication to the recovery journey.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management is a behavioral strategy employing positive reinforcement to incentivize abstinence and encourage adherence to treatment objectives. Clients are rewarded or given incentives upon accomplishing milestones such as attending therapy sessions, presenting negative drug tests, and showcasing advancements in their recovery journey.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a concise, objective-focused therapeutic method designed to amplify intrinsic motivation for transformation. By engaging in structured dialogues and offering personalized feedback, therapists support individuals in examining the disparity between their present behaviors and aspirations, nurturing feelings of self-assurance and empowerment.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy involves individuals in practical activities and immersive experiences to facilitate emotional processing and personal development. Through activities like role-playing, art therapy, and outdoor adventure therapy, individuals can delve into underlying issues, express emotions, and cultivate new coping mechanisms within a nurturing and supportive environment.
    • Relapse Prevention Therapy: Relapse prevention strategies center on recognizing and managing triggers, fostering coping mechanisms, and establishing a structured plan to deter relapse. Clients are equipped to identify early warning signs of relapse, employ coping strategies adeptly, and construct a robust support network to uphold enduring sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-step facilitation integrates 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to bolster recovery from addiction. Clients actively participate in group meetings, undertake the Twelve Steps, and receive encouragement from peers with comparable experiences, cultivating a supportive community and fostering accountability.

    If you’re looking for reputable addiction treatment centers, Maryland‘s Alpas Wellness is here for you. Our experienced team of professionals is committed to providing the highest quality care and support throughout your recovery journey.

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Inhalants


    How do people typically use inhalants to achieve a high?


    Inhalants are typically used by inhaling the fumes or vapors of various household or industrial products. Common methods include sniffing or inhaling directly from containers, bags, or rags soaked in the substance. Some individuals may also inhale the contents of aerosol spray cans or inhale gasses from balloons or bags.


    Are there any legal consequences associated with the misuse of inhalants?


    Yes, there can be legal consequences associated with the misuse of inhalants. While the specifics vary by jurisdiction, inhalant abuse may lead to legal penalties such as fines, probation, community service, or even incarceration, particularly if it harms oneself or others. Additionally, certain substances commonly used as inhalants may be regulated under local, state, or federal laws governing controlled substances or hazardous materials.


    What are the signs and symptoms that someone may be abusing inhalants?


    Signs of inhalant abuse may include chemical odors on clothing or breath, paint or chemical stains on skin or clothing, empty containers or bags of inhalant products, sudden changes in behavior or mood, slurred speech, dizziness, confusion, nausea or vomiting, and loss of coordination. Additionally, individuals abusing inhalants may exhibit physical symptoms such as nosebleeds, headaches, and frequent coughing.


    [1] Substance use – inhalants: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2019). on April 1, 2024

    [2] Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Inhalant Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. on April 1, 2024

    [3] Lipari, R. N. (2017). Understanding Adolescent Inhalant Use. on April 1, 2024

    [4] DEA Diversion Control Division. (2016). Controlled Substances -Alphabetical Order – DEA CSA SUBSTANCE NUMBER SCH NARC OTHER NAMES. on April 1, 2024

    [5] Abuse, N. I. on D. (n.d.). How do inhalants produce their effects? National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 1, 2024

    [6] Abuse, N. I. on D. (2011, February). What is the scope of inhalant use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 1, 2024

    [7] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, December 15). Monitoring the Future. National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 1, 2024

    [8] Lipari, R. N. (2017). Understanding Adolescent Inhalant Use. on May 10, 2024

    [9] Radparvar, S. (2023). The Clinical Assessment and Treatment of Inhalant Abuse. The Permanente Journal, 27(2), 1–11. on April 1, 2024

    [10] Muralidharan, K., Ravi Philip Rajkumar, Mulla U, Nayak, R. K., & Benegal. (2008). Baclofen in the Management of Inhalant Withdrawal: A Case Series. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 10(01), 48–51. on May 10, 2024

    [11] Abuse, N. I. on D. (2011, February). What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 1, 2024

    [12] Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Inhalant Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. on May 10, 2024

    [13] National Institute of Mental Health. (2023). Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. on April 1, 2024

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