Inhalant Abuse Information

Understanding Inhalant Addiction

Learn About Inhalant Addiction & Abuse

Inhalants are a broad group of chemicals that are abused most commonly by children and adolescents. Inhalants come in many forms: glue, paint, gasoline, aerosols, markers, cleaning fluids, solvents, and other chemicals, and different age groups tend to favor different inhalants. For example, children and adolescents aged 12-15 typically abuse glue, shoe polish, paint, and fuels, while those ages 16-17 prefer nitrous oxide or aerosols. As their name suggests, inhalants are ingested by inhaling through the mouth or nose, sometimes being concentrated in a paper or plastic bag first. The high from inhalants tends to be relatively short, though those who use inhalants sometimes attempt to prolong the high by continuing to inhale their substance of choice over a number of hours. While inhalant use is generally not associated with withdrawal symptoms, inhalants can still be dangerous and can in some cases cause death with a single use in otherwise healthy individuals. Thankfully, however, treatment options are available to help people who are struggling with inhalant abuse.


Inhalant Abuse Statistics

Data from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition indicates that about 0.4 percent of young people ages 12-17 meet criteria for inhalant use disorder in a given year. This rate of abuse falls to 0.02 percent among all Americans older than 18. Overall, about 10 percent of 17-year-olds report having used inhalants at one time or another.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Inhalant Abuse

There are a number of genetic and environmental risk factors for inhalant abuse, such as:

Genetic: Certain elements of personality and temperament, such as behavioral disinhibition, are strongly linked with genetics and can present an increased risk of inhalant abuse. Similarly, young people with family members with substance use disorders are more at risk of abusing inhalants than their peers whose family members do not have substance use disorders.

Environmental: Inhalants are widely available and easily accessible, presenting a high risk for abuse. Other environmental factors, such as maltreatment or childhood trauma or abuse, are associated with an increased risk of inhalant use disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • History of family substance use disorder
  • Personal history of substance use or mental illness, such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder
  • Greater degree of behavioral disinhibition
  • Homelessness
  • Involvement with gangs

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse

Although inhalant abuse will manifest with different signs and symptoms depending on each individual, the following are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate a person is abusing inhalants:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using inhalants more often or in larger quantities than one initially intends
  • Difficulty reducing one’s use of inhalants
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from using inhalants
  • Giving up on, or failing to fulfill, obligations in one’s social, work, school, or home life
  • Using inhalants in situations where use could put one in harm’s way
  • Continuing to abuse inhalants despite the emergence of physical or psychological problems related to use

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremor, shaking, or spasms
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Slowed movements
  • Weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Unconsciousness
  • Experiencing tolerance, which means a person needs increased amounts of an inhalant to become high

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Having cravings, or strong desires to use inhalants

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Pleasurable feelings
  • Continuing to use inhalants despite experiencing relationship strain or other interpersonal problems


Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse can have a number of negative effects, such as:

  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Possible loss of job or academic expulsion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Digestive problems
  • Problems with breathing
  • Lung damage
  • Damage to other organs
  • Injury sustained while high
  • Death even in otherwise healthy individuals, known as “sudden sniffing death”; death is also possible from choking on one’s vomit or suffocating

Co-Occurring Disorders

Inhalant Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

People who have inhalant use disorder often struggle with other co-occurring mental health symptoms, such as:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Conduct disorder (in adolescence)
  • Antisocial personality disorder (in adulthood)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Inhalant Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of inhalant overdose: When a person ingests more of an inhalant than his or her body can handle, that person will experience an overdose. Symptoms of inhalant overdose can be dangerous, even fatal, so any person who has been using inhalants and begins exhibiting the following symptoms should receive immediate medical attention:

  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness

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