Inhalant Use: Effects, Withdrawal, and Treatment

Despite the frequency of inhalant use, this particular form of substance use is not as commonly discussed or studied. This page will cover what inhalant use is, the effects of inhalant use, and how to find treatment for inhalant use disorder.

What Is Inhalant Use?

Inhalant use is the intentional inhaling of common household or workplace substances to achieve some sort of “high.” There are many products found in the home that are perfectly legal to buy at the store but that also contain substances that have psychoactive properties when they are inhaled. These include:

  • Cleaning fluid.
  • Spray paint.
  • Glue.
  • Various other products typically found in the household.

Depending on the substance and equipment used, the process may be referred to as huffing, sniffing, snorting, or bagging.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 68% of inhalant use occurs in people under 18 years old. While inhalant use reached its peak in the 1990s, it is still a potentially dangerous problem for young people today.

The term inhalant is reserved for substances that are rarely if ever are taken to achieve some sort of “high” by any means other than inhaling them. These include solvents, gases, aerosols, and nitrates, in a number of other different household substances.

Inhalant use occurs in a variety of ways. Typically, inhalants are breathed in through the mouth or nose. Those who use inhalants may snort fumes from the container, place a chemical-soaked rag in their mouth, inhale fumes from a bag (either plastic or paper), or use some other form of technique.

The high from inhalant use lasts only a few minutes, but people may try to extend the high by continuing to inhale repeatedly over long periods of time.

Types of Products Generally Used as Inhalants

The general classes of inhalants that serve as drugs of misuse are listed below:

  • Adhesives: Household glue, rubber cement, and airplane glue
  • Aerosols: Spray deodorant, air freshener, spray paint, hairspray, fabric protector, and computer keyboard cleaners in spray form
  • Solvents and gases: Paint thinner, type correction thinner and fluid, nail polish remover, cigar lighter fluid, carburetor cleaner, gasoline, and octane booster
  • Cleaning agents: Degreaser, spot remover, and dry-cleaning fluid
  • Food products: Topping sprays like whipped cream and vegetable cooking spray
  • Gases: Propane, butane, helium, and nitrous oxide
  • Anesthetics: Ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide
  • Nitrates: “Snappers” and “poppers”

Effects of Inhalant Use

The early symptoms of inhalant use may be very similar to intoxication from alcohol. The symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • The loss of inhibitions.

With more extended use, inhalant use effects can include:

  • Marked changes in personality and cognition.
  • Issues with being belligerent or apathetic.
  • Displaying impaired judgment and reasoning.
  • The development of hallucinations and/or delusions.

With long-term use, effects can include a combination of neurological and psychological symptoms that can reflect brain damage, including:

  • Weight loss.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • A lack of coordination.
  • Issues with depression and mood swings.
  • Issues with irritability.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Other neurological impairments.
  • Problems with attention and memory.

There are potential serious consequences associated with inhalant use. There are reports of permanent brain damage, damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys, and even death due to fatal cardiac complications in first-time users and in individuals with prolonged inhalant use issues.

What Are the Signs of Inhalant Use?

According to The Inhalant Prevention Resource, there are several signs to look for:

  • The appearance of intoxication but without the smell of alcohol (slurred speech, loss of coordination, loss of inhibition, etc.)
  • Paint or other stains on skin or clothing
  • Chemical smells on clothing or breath
  • Spots or sores around the mouth; red or runny eyes or nose
  • Being uncharacteristically angry, excitable, or irritable
  • A significant loss of appetite or periods of nausea and vomiting that are unexplainable
  • Chemical-soaked rags or empty spray cans around the house or in the trash

Does Inhalant Use Produce Tolerance and Withdrawal?

There has been a bit of controversy regarding whether or not the use of inhalants leads to physical dependence. The notion of physical dependence, which may or may not be part of a syndrome of addiction (a moderate to severe substance use disorder), is a manifestation of two primarily physiological reactions as a result of chronic drug usage.

These two reactions are tolerance (the need to use more of the drug in order to achieve the effects achieved at earlier doses) and withdrawal (a series of physical and psychological symptoms, mostly negative and distressing, that occur when one stops using the drug abruptly or cuts down the dosage).

A 2011 study in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation that used data from the very large National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions databank found that nearly half of the participants who met the criteria for inhalant use disorder or addiction reported experiencing at least three clinically significant withdrawal symptoms.

These included psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and hallucinations or delusions, as well as physical symptoms, such as:

  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Insomnia.
  • Chills.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.

Thus, the data indicates that there may be mild withdrawal symptoms that occur in individuals with chronic inhalant use disorders.

It was noted that in above the study, a good portion of individuals experiencing these withdrawal symptoms continued to use inhalants to avoid experiencing the symptoms as opposed to quitting use. This is a common shared experience among those who use drugs that have the potential for withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment for Inhalant Use

If you or someone you love needs help to stop their inhalant use, treatment is available. Desert Hope Treatment Center—a drug rehab in Las Vegas, NV—provides several levels of addiction treatment. Each person receives individualized care at our premier rehab facility.

To learn more about program offerings, call now. Admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer your questions, walk you through the rehab admissions process, and explain the various ways to pay for rehab.

If you’re interesting in using insurance coverage for rehab, Desert Hope is in-network with most major health insurance companies. You can quickly .

Please don’t wait to get the help you deserve. Reach out to us today.

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