Inhalant Addiction Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding Inhalant Addiction & Abuse

Learn more about inhalant addiction & abuse

The category of inhalants includes a number of common substances that can be abused through inhaling the vapors or fumes that they produce. These vapors or fumes trigger an onset of mind-altering effects such as impaired coordination, light-headedness, lowered inhibitions, and dizziness. Hundreds of substances, including those listed below, are considered inhalants:

  • Nitrites: Amyl and butyl, which are two of the most commonly abused nitrates, are often used to increase sexual experiences.
  • Aerosols: Aerosols, which include spray paint, hairspray, and other products that contain solvents and propellants, are also considered inhalants.
  • Volatile solvents: Liquids that vaporize when they get to room temperature are considered volatile solvents. Some of these solvents can include paint thinner, adhesives, lacquer, and cleaning fluids.
  • Gases: Propane, nitrous oxide, chloroform, and butane are all frequently abused gasses that are inhaled.

Inhalant abuse can be highly dangerous and can cause a number of damaging outcomes.


Statistics on inhalant addiction & abuse

Most instances of inhalant abuse involve adolescents and teens, however adults also participate in this type of practice. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) states that roughly 60,000 adults abuse inhalants each year. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), inhalant abuse is responsible for approximately 10,000 emergency room visits a year within the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for inhalant addiction & abuse

Substance abuse and addiction can be brought on by a number of internal and external factors, and it is typically the result of a number of aspects. Experts in the field of mental health who have studied the origins of addiction have acknowledged numerous genetic and environmental factors, including:

Genetic: One’s family background is one of the most common predictors of if one will struggle with an inhalant abuse problem or other forms of substance abuse. Those with a parent or a sibling who have battled with substance use disorder places one at higher risk for also facing such issues. Recently, scientists have recognized a number of genes that tend to impact an individual’s chances of developing substance use disorder.

Environmental: Those who have a history of neglect and/or abuse may begin using inhalants because they are readily accessible. When this develops, the effects of past neglect and/or abuse that one is suffering from and the availability to inhalants are considered environmental factors for inhalant abuse. Other factors can include exposure to continued stress, poverty, and socializing with those who abuse drugs.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of trauma
  • Early exposure to substance abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Living in poverty
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, and/or mental illness
  • Personal history of abuse and/or neglect
  • Prior substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of inhalant addiction & abuse

With hundreds of substances in the category of inhalants, the signs and symptoms that one might display can vary, as can methods of treatment. However, some of the most commonly shared signs of inhalant abuse, no matter what type of inhalant is being used, can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in risky, dangerous behaviors
  • Belligerence
  • Slurred speech
  • Swaying and/or stumbling
  • Having large amounts of glue, aerosols, paint, or other inhalants
  • Lying about one’s whereabouts and activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Sores near the mouth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Breathing problems
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Emitting a chemical or gas-like odor

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired coordination
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities and issues that were previously important
  • Excitability and restlessness
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Apathy
  • Unprovoked agitation or anger


Effects of inhalant addiction & abuse

The damage that can ensue from inhalant abuse can vary tremendously based on the type of inhalant that is being abused and how much of it is being consumed. Below are some of the most common effects of inhalant abuse:

  • Hearing loss
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Damage to the brain, kidneys, and liver
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Anemia
  • Blindness
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring disorders

Many of those who battle with inhalant abuse also struggle with additional mental health issues, including one or more of the following:

  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Major depressive disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of inhalant withdrawal and overdose

Effects of inhalant withdrawal: Those who have been participating in long-term inhalant abuse and then suddenly stop their use put themselves at risk for developing a number of withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Powerful headaches
  • Intense cravings
  • Nausea

Effects of inhalant overdose: Abusing inhalants comes with the risk of overdose, which occurs when an individual consumes too much of an inhalant that the body is unable to metabolize it. Someone who shows the following symptoms after abusing inhalants should obtain medical attention immediately:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Severe trouble breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations