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Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment

Are You Addicted to Inhalants?

Regular abuse of inhalants puts the user at serious risk of neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems, including death. Common substances abused include glue, shoe polish, toluene, gasoline, lighter fluid and spray paints.1 Other substances of abuse may include butyl or amyl nitrites and nitrous oxide.

This article discusses inhalant addiction and different treatment options. It includes information on:

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Yes, inhalants can be addictive.2 About 10% of people who use inhalants develop tolerance to their effects and experience withdrawal symptoms.2 These users require more and more inhalants to achieve intoxication and to postpone the onset of withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms will vary according to the specific inhalant being abused. While these withdrawal symptoms are rare, they may include:

  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability.
  • Jitteriness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Delusions and hallucinations. 2

Inhalant addiction is serious because continued use of these volatile substances can, at any time, result in permanent damage to your brain and body. Some inhalant substances can cause “sudden sniffing death” even after just one small dose.

How to Tell If You or a Loved One Is Addicted

Inhalant abuse is characterized by both behavioral changes and physical symptoms. The user may dedicate a significant amount of time to finding, using and recovering from the substance. Someone who is addicted may also reduce normal social, occupational and recreational activities.

Continuing down the path of addiction can lead to actions that jeopardize a person’s safety either when obtaining the substance or while intoxicated. Sometimes people will use the substance in secrecy, deny the harmful effects on their life and develop both financial and relationship problems. 1

Signs of Inhalant Addiction

If you or a loved one is addicted to inhalants, you might notice these behavioral changes:

  • Spending a great deal of time trying to obtain inhalants, use them or recover from their effects.
  • Cravings or strong urges to find and use the substance.
  • Regular use of inhalants that causes failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school or home.
  • Continued use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems such as arguments or fights.
  • Giving up recreational activities or hobbies to use inhalants.
  • Regular use of inhalants in physically hazardous situations.
  • Regular use despite having a physical or psychological problem that may have been caused or exacerbated by inhalant use.
  • Tolerance: a need for increased amounts of inhalants to become intoxicated or a reduced effect with continued use of the same amount of the drug. 1

Use Among Teens

Inhalant addiction is most common among adolescents. Frequently, those with inhalant addictions may also struggle with co-occurring mental health conditions such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder. 1 In the 2015 Monitoring the Future Study on teenage drug use, 9.4% of 8th graders, 7.2% of 10th graders, and 5.7% of 12th graders reported using inhalants at least once in their life. The study noted a significant decrease in the rate of inhalant use among 8th and 12th graders over the past year. 5

Rates of inhalant abuse begin to decline among people in their 20s. 1

Paying for Treatment

The cost of inhalant addiction treatment will vary depending on the setting, location and duration of treatment. In general, treatment becomes more expensive the longer it lasts and the more exclusive the facility. Inpatient treatment centers are usually more expensive than outpatient centers.

Several payment methods exist. Your insurance usually covers a percentage of the cost. You can also finance your recovery with a credit card or a personal loan, or through a crowdfunding site.

Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery

Treatment options for inhalant addiction include inpatient, outpatient, 12-step groups, teen programs and dual diagnosis facilities. Each treatment option provides access to highly educated addiction specialists, and programs typically vary in duration, cost and program philosophy. The best program for you will depend on the severity of your addiction, your personal preferences and your financial and insurance situations.

When choosing a treatment program, you may wish to ask the following questions:

  • What amenities does the facility have?
  • Does the facility allow cigarette smoking?
  • Are you able to bring your cell phone or computer?
  • What types of services does your insurance cover?
  • Does the facility allow visitors, and if so, when and how often?
  • Where is the facility, and how far of a drive is it for you and your family?
  • Does the facility accommodate any dietary needs?
  • What are the qualifications and educational backgrounds of the staff?
  • Is the program nationally accredited?
  • What is the treatment philosophy?

Types of Rehab Centers for Inhalants

  • Inpatient. Inpatient facilities offer 24-hour care for the duration of your stay. You have a room to sleep in at night, and during the day, you often participate in group therapy with others who are also in recovery. This setting is best for those who have been using inhalants for a long period of time because it removes you from your day-to-day temptations. 3 Inpatient programs are usually the most expensive, and you will need to take a break from work or school commitments.
  • Outpatient. Outpatient programs allow you to receive treatment during the day over a few months or years. In these programs, you might see a therapist once a month for individual counseling and participate in group therapy every week. Outpatient programs are most suitable for those with mild addictions who need to continue employment or school obligations. Usually, these treatments are less expensive. 3
  • 12-step. Twelve-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous are free and offer social support using a self-help philosophy. These group therapy programs combine spiritual, behavioral and cognitive interventions to help those suffering from inhalant addiction. Twelve-step programs bring together people with similar addiction problems to form strong community support networks.
  • Teen-focused. Some addiction treatment programs are designed specifically for teenagers. Teen-Anon, for example, began in 1999 to help young adults suffering from addiction. 3 Teen-Anon follows the same principals as the 12-step programs used by adults. Teens may also participate in wilderness therapy programs that combine inpatient treatment with outdoor activities such as backpacking, horseback riding and leadership courses. 3
  • Dual diagnosis. Inhalant users suffering from both an addiction and a co-occurring mental illness should consider attending a dual diagnosis program. 3 These centers are staffed with both addiction and psychiatry specialists who can treat both conditions at the same time.

When to Seek Immediate Attention

Inhalant intoxication, similar to alcohol intoxication, usually resolves spontaneously. 2 However, certain effects of inhalant intoxication may require emergency medical attention. If you have any of the following symptoms, please call 911:

  • Stupor, altering levels of consciousness, or coma.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Severe trauma or burns. 2

American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience.

Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Inhalants Dependency

Using any inhalant substance is extremely dangerous. Inhalant use can be fatal, and death can occur even after a person’s first use and at very small doses.

Sudden death can be caused by:

  • Respiratory depression.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Suffocation.
  • Choking on vomit.
  • Accident or injury. 1

Other short-term effects depend on the drug.

  • Nitrites: increased heart rate, drop in blood pressure, sense of warmth and euphoria.
  • Nitrous oxide: mild euphoria, reduced perception of pain, lowered inhibitions, drowsiness.
  • Solvents (glues, paints, gases, coolants, industrial chemicals): stimulation, loss of inhibitions, mild euphoria, depression, possible visual distortions and hallucinations. 6

Long-Term Effects

More chronic use of inhalants can lead to:

  • Hearing loss.
  • Numbness and tingling in toes and fingers.
  • Headache.
  • Incoordination.
  • Memory loss.
  • Apathy.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Trouble understanding speech.
  • Impaired depth perception. 2

Other long-term effects include:
  • Psychological problems. Inhalant use can cause hallucinations, delusions and paranoid states that continue beyond periods of intoxication. 2 The most common psychiatric disorders associated with inhalant use include major depressive disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. 2 Sometimes, inhalant substances include metals (e.g., lead) that can cause irreversible damage to the brain. 2
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. Inhalant users are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. 1
  • Risks to unborn children. Pregnant women should begin treatment as soon as possible. Unborn children are at risk of toluene embryopathy if the mother is using this particular inhalant during pregnancy. 2 This condition is similar to fetal alcohol syndrome and can lead to many complications at birth. 2 Children born with toluene embryopathy demonstrate developmental delays and hyperactivity. 2
  • Lung damage. Long-term inhalant abuse causes significant damage to your lungs, increasing your risk of developing pulmonary-related conditions such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis. 4
  • Skin problems. Long-term inhalant use can result in noticeable changes to appearance. An addicted person might develop rashes around their mouth or nose and develop unusual breath odors. 1 Sometimes, the residue from an inhalant substance can be found on their face, hands and clothing, resulting in skin, eye, lung and nose irritation.

Find a Treatment Program for Inhalant Addiction

Repeated use of inhalant substances is extremely dangerous. If you or someone you know needs more information about inhalant addiction treatment, please call us toll-free, 24 hours a day at . If you do not have insurance, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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