Understanding Inhalant Use, Abuse, Addiction & Recovery

young inhalant abusing kids

Inhalant Abuse is Perceived as Harmless But is Deadly

Facts About Inhalants

  • The term “inhalants” can be applied to a range of products (typically consumer products) that users inhale to get high
  • Most inhalants are common household products available at retail stores throughout the U.S.
  • People abuse inhalants to experience a “buzz” or “high”
  • Because the “high” lasts only a few minutes, many people will binge on inhalants, using them repeatedly over several hours
  • Inhalants users can die when getting high

Inhalants can be used by inhaling the substance directly, or inhaling vapors via a soaked rag to get high. Some users will inhale directly from the container. Users abuse volatile solvents, aerosol sprays, nitrites and gases to get “high.” Each time a users “huffs” or inhales the chemical, they risk death, brain damage, and other permanent damage to their bodies. When they inhale or “huff” the inhalant they are using, they almost immediately feel intoxicated and experience effects similar to a drunken state.

Inhalants Are Commonly Called

Different inhalants have different street names, depending on the substance that is being inhaled. Some of the most common names are:

  • Laughing gas (nitrous oxide)
  • Snappers (amyl nitrite)
  • Poppers (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite)
  • Whippets (fluorinated hydrocarbons, found in whipped cream dispensers)
  • Bold (nitrites)
  • Rush (nitrites)

Consumer Substances Commonly Abused as Inhalants

  • Nail polish remover
  • Gasoline
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Spray paint
  • Cooking spray
  • Whipped cream
  • Spray cleaning fluids
  • Model glue
  • Correction fluid

Inhalants are popular among teens and preteens as a means to experiment with drugs and get high. Typically abused inhalants include harmful chemicals such as acetone, butane, propane, fluorocarbons, ethyl chloride and nitrous oxide.

Symptoms/Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse can lead to many short-term side effects that are similar to being drunk. After inhaling the chemical, a user may exhibit slurred speech or have trouble with their balance. They seem disoriented and have trouble holding a conversation. They may feel lightheaded or dizzy. Some users will feel nauseous. The effects of inhalant abuse are usually felt within seconds and dissipate within 10 minutes or less.

Inhalant users will often smell the chemical vapors without  “inhaling” the actual liquid (or spray). Users who inhale correction fluid may paint their nails with it and sniff it often. Others will use clothing or a rag to dip in the chemical. Users who abuse butane may have a collection of lighters and lighter fluid in their living space.

Dangers of Long-Term Inhalant Use

Long-term inhalant abusers risk causing serious, permanent to their bodies, including liver and kidney dysfunction or shut down, memory loss, and seizures. Inhalant users frequently suffer from problems with their eyesight and hearing.

Inhalants are made from dangerous chemicals that no one should be exposed to over a period time. Because of this, there is no such thing as safe inhalant use. When people use inhalants, they risk heart attacks, painful nerve damage, and irreversible brain damage.

This damage takes its toll on the body. Chronic inhalant users will suffer from muscle weakness and clumsiness. Some users lose weight, have difficulty concentrating and suffer from depression. Chronic exposure to chemicals can lead to widespread and long-lasting damage to the brain. The symptoms are painful and the damage is described as similar to neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Dependency/Addiction

Chronic inhalant users may psychologically dependent on the drug. Because of this, they may hoard products containing their favorite chemical. They may develop a tolerance over time, requiring higher doses of the chemical to get high. Their family relationships and friendships may suffer, and they may withdraw from the world.

Many chronic inhalant users who want to quit have difficulty because their body and mind have become used to the drug and will crave it. Withdrawal symptoms vary because each product has more than one ingredient. Withdrawal symptoms to inhalants have been known to include hand tremors, chills, excessing sweating or anxiety. Some people experience headaches and abdominal cramps or muscle cramps. Some inhalant users have been known to hallucinate while using (or coming off the high of) inhalants.

Because of the various side effects from inhalants, addiction professionals recommend that people withdrawing from inhalants seek a clinically supervised detox, where medical professionals can monitor them for adverse events and help alleviate some of the discomfort.

Getting Help for an Inhalant Problem

If you think you have a problem with inhalants, you’re not alone! Many people have successfully stopped using inhalants with the help of an in or outpatient treatment program. Interested in learning more about treatment options? Not sure how to get help? Treatment for inhalant abuse starts with a 100% confidential phone call. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.