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What You Should Know About Quitting Inhalants

How to Stop Using Inhalants

Although inhalant addiction is not as common as other forms of substance abuse, people can become addicted with repeated use. 5 Inhalants are most often abused by adolescents. Quitting inhalants, or any abused substance, is difficult but possible with the right treatment program.

Inhalant Addiction Treatment Center and Recovery Program Options

Inhalants are a wide variety of substances that include solvents, aerosols, gases and nitrites. The substances are easily available, legal and inexpensive. 2 Users, most commonly adolescents, inhale these substances through the nose or mouth using different methods, including sniffing through a container, inhaling fumes from a plastic bag or putting a chemical-soaked rag in their mouth. 5

Almost all inhaled products depress the central nervous system and can lead to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms with regular use. 2 Inhalant addiction, though rare, is incredibly dangerous. Compulsive inhalant use can lead to kidney and liver failure, hearing loss and brain damage.

If you or your loved is struggling with inhalant abuse, a number of treatment options are available. Those who attend treatment programs are more likely to achieve and maintain abstinence compared with those who quit on their own. 4

Recovery Programs for Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant recovery programs vary in duration, cost and treatment philosophy. The right program for you or your loved one depends on the severity of your addiction and your personal preferences.

Inhalant recovery program options include inpatient, outpatient, group counseling, individual counseling, 12-step programs, teen programs, and dual diagnosis. Each of these programs is discussed in more detail below.

  • Teen programs: Teen recovery centers are available for adolescents who are abusing inhalants. These programs provide detox, counseling and recreational activities, and may allow a teen to continue to complete schoolwork while in the program. Teen recovery centers may also have groups focused on issues specific to teen drug abuse, such as improving self-esteem and resisting peer pressure.
  • Inpatient recovery: Inpatient facilities provide 24-hour care, and they are generally the best option for those with the most severe addictions. These centers offer addiction care around the clock, including therapeutic activities and medical supervision and management of withdrawal symptoms. Research demonstrates that inpatient facilities result in the highest rates of sustained abstinence. 4
  • Outpatient recovery: Outpatient clinics require you to come in for scheduled counseling or behavioral therapy appointments. Outpatient programs are most suitable for those with relatively mild addictions who need to continue employment or school obligations. 4 Usually, these treatments are less expensive than inpatient care.
  • Group counseling: Group counseling involves meeting with a therapist and other people recovering from similar addictions. Group therapy helps users by providing peer support, reducing feelings of isolation and providing role models of other people who have recovered from substance abuse. 4
  • Individual counseling: Individual counseling involves meeting one-on-one with a trained psychotherapist. Counselors teach you to recognize and cope with their addictive behaviors. 4
  • 12-step programs: Twelve-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous use a structured, 12-step approach to recovery. They offer many free meetings that provide social support using a self-help philosophy. The meetings take place in a group setting in which members are able to learn and share spiritual, behavioral and cognitive approaches to recovery that can be helpful to people suffering from inhalant addictions and other forms of substance dependency. Many treatment programs also incorporate 12-step meetings.
  • Dual diagnosis: Dual diagnosis recovery programs help people who suffer from both an addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder. These programs focus on treating both the mental health disorder and the substance abuse disorder at the same time. People who abuse inhalants may suffer from mental health issues such as conduct disorder and suicidal ideation, and they may also abuse other drugs. 1 These conditions should be screened for and treated at the recovery program.


Aftercare activities help reduce the risk of relapse, which is high for people in recovery from substance abuse. Aftercare is follow-up care a person receives after completing substance abuse treatment. It can include additional support groups, 12-step meetings or extended individual counseling sessions.

How to Choose a Program

Once you determine which type of program is right for you or your loved one, you might want to ask a few additional questions to see if the program is the right fit based on personal preferences and any special circumstances:

  • Are you able to bring your cell phone or computer?
  • Does the recovery center accommodate special dietary needs?
  • Does it allow visitors, and if so, when and how often?
  • Is the program nationally accredited?
  • What amenities does the facility have?
  • What are the qualifications and educational background of the staff members?
  • What is the treatment philosophy of the program?
  • Which services are covered by insurance?
  • Where is the facility, and how far of a drive is it for you and your family?

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms and Side Effects

About 10% of those who abuse inhalants develop tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms. 1 Developing a tolerance to inhalant substances means that you require more and more of the substances to achieve intoxication or the desired effects. Withdrawal symptoms are generally mild and rare, but they depend on the duration and type of inhalant substance being used.

Those who try to quit inhalants may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Impaired memory.
  • Irritability.
  • Jitteriness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Sweating.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.2

Inhalant intoxication, similar to alcohol intoxication, usually resolves spontaneously and does not require medical attention. However, certain side effects do warrant emergency medical help. 1 If you or a loved one develops any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:
  • Delirium.
  • Fluctuating levels of consciousness.
  • Stupor.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Severe trauma or burns. 2

Benefits of Quitting Inhalants

Quitting inhalants can reduce risks to your health, improve your personal relationships, increase your focus at work or school, and reduce your risk of addiction.

Reduce Risks to Health

First and foremost, inhalant substances are incredibly harmful to your body and your brain. Prolonged use can lead to:

  • Uncoordinated movements.
  • Numbness and tingling in toes and fingers.
  • Headache.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Impaired depth perception.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Memory loss.
  • Trouble understanding speech. 2
  • Apathy.
  • Risk of accidents due to disorientation and loss of muscle coordination as well as burns due to the flammability of many of the chemicals. 7

Further, people who use inhalants are at risk for the following due to risky behavior while under the influence of inhalants or to repeated use of these substances:
  • Tuberculosis.
  • HIV and AIDS.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis. 2

People can also die from inhalant abuse. These deaths occur even at small doses and sometimes during a person’s first use.1 “Sudden sniffing death” can occur as the result of:

  • Choking on vomit.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Suffocation. 1

If a mother is using inhalant substances during pregnancy, the unborn child is at risk of developing toluene embryopathy.2 Similar to fetal alcohol syndrome, this condition leads to many complications at birth.

Increase Your Focus

The side effects of inhalants – including apathy, headaches, dizziness and nausea – can make it hard to concentrate on schoolwork or at a job. Prolonged abuse can also increase the risk of brain damage – either from direct chemical toxicity or as a result of anoxic brain injury (lack of oxygen).

Quitting inhalant substances will boost your productivity and likely result in better grades or better functioning at work.

Reduce Risk of Addiction

Regular abuse of inhalants can lead to addiction and abuse of other substances, which in turn can lead to health, social and occupational problems down the road.

A survey of 43,000 American adults suggests that inhalants users are more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs at younger ages and have a higher lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders compared to substance abusers without a history of inhalant abuse. 6

Improve Relationships

Substance abuse often impacts the most important relationships in your life. Your friends and family may worry about you. You may spend so much time finding, using and recovering from inhalants that you spend less time with them. Quitting inhalant substances can improve these relationships.

Tips for Quitting

Quitting an inhalant addiction alone is difficult. Here are some tips for making the process easier:

  • Talk to a professional. Consider talking to your primary care provider who can offer encouragement and treatment recommendations. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous are free and open to the community. These programs help build a strong support network.
  • Avoid triggers. Don’t spend time with any friends who are still using, avoid stores where you would purchase substances and discard any paraphernalia.
  • Consider seeking treatment away from home. If possible, travel to a remote treatment facility to escape your current using environment.
  • Address the underlying reason for the addiction. Remember, recovery from an addiction is more than just discontinuing the substance. You must address the reasons you started using in the first place. Addiction counselors can help you on your road to recovery.

How to Help an Addict Quit

It can be difficult to know how to help a friend or family member struggling with addiction. While you should always try to help a loved one, don’t forget that the person is ultimately responsible for taking the steps necessary to recover from addiction.

  • Approach your loved one with a gentle, caring and authentic attitude. Choose a time when you are sure they are not under the influence of inhalant substances, and make sure you are in a safe environment.
  • Explain your concerns and don’t use confrontational language. Cite specific instances or behaviors that have impacted you as a result of their addiction to inhalants. Remember to approach your friend or family member calmly in a non-threatening manner.
  • If your loved one is receptive, encourage them to attend a recovery program. Try to initiate a dialogue, where they can openly discuss their fears about addiction programs. Let them know that several different treatment options are available, and offer to help them find one that’s right for them. Assure them that even without insurance, affordable treatment is available.

Find a Rehab Center

If you or someone you know is ready to seek treatment for inhalant addiction, please call us toll-free, 24 hours a day at . A representative can verify your insurance coverage and provide information about treatment options over the phone.

If you don’t have insurance, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). A helpline representative can refer you to local treatment options that cater to those without insurance.

Substance-Specific Quitting Help

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