Inhalant Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Inhalant Addiction

Learn about inhalant addiction & abuse

Inhalants are a type of volatile chemical substance that, when abused, can elicit mind-altering effects. When the fumes of these substances are inhaled, they produce a rapid high that has been compared to the way that it feels to be drunk on alcohol. Accompanying this initial high feeling, inhalant users typically experience a loss of inhibition, which is then commonly followed by a period of drowsiness and light-headedness. Inhalants work by depressing the user’s nervous system, meaning that they slow down the ways in which the brain works to process information. While there are a number of substances that can be inhaled as a means of ingestion, the classification of substances referred to as “inhalants” are very rarely, if ever, ingested in any other form other than via inhalation.

There are different types of inhalants that individuals throughout the world abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is one classification system that compiled four general categories of inhalants. These four categories include:

  • Aerosols – sprays that contain solvents and propellants (e.g. spray paint, hair spray, fabric protector sprays, etc.)
  • Volatile solvents – liquids that become vaporized upon reaching room temperature (e.g. paint thinners, glues, correction fluids, felt-tip markers, etc.)
  • Gases – gases that are used in various household products or medical anesthetics
  • Nitrites – considered to be a special class of inhalants that dilate blood vessels and relax muscles as opposed to directly acting on the central nervous system like other types of inhalants

The act of abusing inhalants is extremely dangerous, as significant detriments have been known to occur in users after only a single use. For this reason, it is imperative that treatment is sought and implemented when an individual is struggling with the compulsion to abuse inhalants.


Inhalant abuse statistics

While individuals of any age can abuse inhalants, the American Psychiatric Association reports that it is rare in prepubescent children and uncommon among older adults, leaving the most affected population being that of adolescents and young adults. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports that more than 22.9 million individuals in the United States have experimented with the abuse of inhalants at some point in their lifetimes.

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for inhalant abuse

Experts in the field of mental health and addiction agree that there is not any one, single factor that directly causes individuals to begin abusing, and subsequently develop an addiction to, substances like inhalants. Instead, the onset of substance use and addiction concerns are believed to be the result of a combination of different factors working together. Consider the following:

Genetic: Studies throughout the years have demonstrated that there is a large genetic component to the onset of substance use disorders, and the development of an inhalant abuse problem is no different. When individuals have biological family members who struggle with addiction concerns, they are at a heightened risk for struggling with such concerns at some point in their lives as well.

Environmental: There can be a number of environmental factors that play a role in the onset of inhalant abuse. Any time that individuals are chronically exposed to substance use in general, they become more likely to view such behaviors as being acceptable and therefore start to engage in the behaviors themselves. Additionally, studies have shown that a history of childhood abuse and/or neglect and adverse socioeconomic conditions can also increase an individual’s vulnerability to beginning to use and abuse inhalants.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Family history of addiction
  • Personal and/or family history of mental illness
  • Being the victim of childhood abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to violence and crime
  • Chronic exposure to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol by friends or family members
  • Lacking appropriate, healthy coping skills

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse

The signs and symptoms that can be indicative of the fact that someone has developed a problem with abusing inhalants will vary from person to person depending upon the severity of the abuse, as well as the type of inhalant that he or she is abusing. Various examples of possible signs that may be displayed by a person who is struggling with the compulsion to abuse inhalants may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in dangerous, high-risk behaviors
  • Slurred speech
  • Belligerent behaviors
  • Impaired functioning in social situations
  • Impaired functioning in occupational setting
  • Behaving in a way that is indicative of a lack of inhibition
  • Wearing clothing that smells of chemical odors
  • Behaving in a way that is indicative of being drunk or disoriented
  • Purchasing, possessing, and hiding large quantities of aerosols, solvents, or products that contain gas

Physical symptoms:

  • Light-headedness
  • Drowsiness / lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Flushed skin
  • Depressed reflexes
  • Vomiting
  • Presence of paint stains on hands, face, or clothing

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Impaired judgment
  • Dizziness
  • Inattentiveness
  • Disorientation

Psycho-social symptoms:

  • Feelings of excitability
  • Euphoric feelings
  • Increased feelings of agitation
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety


Effects of inhalant abuse

The long-term effects of abusing inhalants can be life-altering, detrimental, and long-lasting. While the specific effects that can arise will inevitably vary, possible examples may include the following:

  • Chemical poisoning
  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Muscle tremors
  • Anemia
  • Memory disturbances
  • Heart failure, also known as “sudden sniffing syndrome” or “sudden sniffing death,” has been known to occur when an individual uses an inhalant and then engages in physical activity
  • Asphyxiation
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Choking
  • Sores / spots in or around the mouth
  • Altered breathing
  • Limb spasms
  • Temporary blindness
  • Bone marrow damage

Co-Occurring Disorders

Inhalant abuse & co-occurring disorders

Individuals who abuse inhalants frequently suffer from symptoms that are synonymous with various mental health conditions. Examples of such conditions that have been known to occur alongside the presence of inhalant use disorder include:

  • Other substance use disorders – individuals struggling with inhalant use disorder frequently struggle with numerous other substance use disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of inhalant withdrawal & overdose

Effects of inhalant withdrawal: When individuals have developed a pattern of habitually abusing inhalants, and then cease their use, they are likely to suffer from symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramping
  • Chills
  • Excessive feelings of agitation
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • Hallucinations
  • Convulsions

Effects of inhalant overdose: Overdosing on inhalants is possible and, if it should occur, it must be viewed as a medical emergency and immediate treatment should be sought and implemented. If such precautions are not taken, the outcome can sadly be a grave one. Severe physical effects have been known to occur after even a single use of inhalants, so the presence of any adverse physical symptoms should be immediately discussed with a doctor or physician. Signs that can be indicative that an individual has overdosed on an inhalant substance may include:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Double vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Significantly slurred speech
  • Extremely slowed reflexes
  • Falling into a state of unconsciousness
  • Onset of delusions and hallucinations

Because of Life Center of Galax and the choices I have made since, I have overcome my battle with inhalants.

– Lucy
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