The term “inhalants” refers to a range of chemical substances people use to get high by inhaling them directly into the lungs. Most inhalants can be easily purchased or found around the home, and include aerosol sprays, gases, solvents, and nitrites (a type of prescription medication most commonly prescribed to alleviate chest pain related to a severe cough or lung-related health issue). Some examples of inhalants which can be used to induce a psychoactive effect include cleaning fluids, spray paints, and even some markers and types of glue. This type of chemical substance is most commonly abused by adolescents and young adults who might not have access to other types of chemical substance, though inhalant abuse is a widespread problem that affects people in a variety of demographics. If you or someone you love has been suffering at the hands of an inhalant use disorder or has been misusing inhalants for any length of time, seeking professional help sooner rather than later is extremely important. The consequences associated with inhalant use can be severe when left untreated. To learn more about the treatment options available to you, contact us today.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are chemical substances that can be inhaled through the nose and mouth in order for psychoactive effects to be produced. As it stands, there are four distinctive categories of inhalant drug: aerosol sprays, gases, solvents, and nitrites.

  • Aerosol Sprays — Aerosol sprays contain solvents and propellants, two chemical substances which can induce mind-altering effects. Aerosol sprays that can be used for their psychoactive effects include spray paints, vegetable oil sprays used for cooking, and hairspray cans. This type of inhalant drug is the easiest for adolescents and young adults to obtain, seeing as it is found in a wide variety of common household products.
  • Gases — This type of inhalant includes nitrous oxide, a chemical ingredient that can be found in whipped cream canisters and one that is commonly used as an anesthetic before certain medical procedures, like surgeries. Additional gases used for medical purposes with a high potential for abuse include chloroform and ether, and gases found in household or commercial products include propane tanks and butane lighters.
  • Solvents — Solvents, or volatile solvents, are chemical substances that evaporate when they reach room temperature. This type of inhalant is also readily accessible, and can be found in a variety of common household products from felt-tipped markers and paint thinners to degreasers and dry-cleaning liquids.
  • Nitrites — Nitrates differ from other types of inhalant drugs in the way that they affect the brain and the body. Whereas other inhalants work by affecting the function of the central nervous system, nitrites work by relaxing the muscles by directly dilating blood vessels. Nitrites like cyclohexyl, amyl, and butyl are sometimes used as sexual enhancers, especially among members of the LGBTQ+ community (more specifically, among homosexual men). While the sale of nitrites is now widely prohibited, this type of inhalant drug can still be obtained and purchased under different labeling.

Scope of Inhalant Use in the U.S.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “Products such as glues, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, whipped cream canisters, and cleaning fluids are widely available yet far from innocuous. Many young people inhale the vapors from these sources in search of quick intoxication without being aware that using inhalants, even once, can have serious health consequences. National surveys indicate that nearly 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least once in their lives. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey reveals that 13.1 percent of 8th-graders have used inhalants.” (1)

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 2.4 million Americans over the age of 12 used an inhalant drug at least one time over the course of the past month. The 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey found that “4.8% of 8th graders, 2.0% of 10th graders, and 1.8% of 12th graders reported using inhalants in the past 12 months.” (2) Nearly 215,000 people are suffering from a diagnosable inhalant use disorder. If you or someone close to you has been struggling with inhalant misuse, there is help available.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/letter-director
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-scope-inhalant-abuse

Inhalant Abuse Signs & Symptoms

There are several physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms associated with inhalant abuse. The most common signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse include:

  • Chemical smells on the skin, breath, or clothing.
  • Paint stains on fingers, mouth, nose, and clothing.
  • Significant changes to mood/mood swings.
  • Increased apathy/a lack of interest in things that were previously enjoyed.
  • Significant changes to weight, often noticeable weight loss.
  • A change in friends or in hobbies.
  • Declining performance at school or problems at work.
  • A lack of attention paid to personal hygiene.
  • Slurred speech/inability to form full sentences.
  • Decline in cognitive function.
  • Chronic runny nose and frequent nosebleeds.
  • An inability to concentrate for significant lengths of time.
  • Anxiety and paranoia/paranoid delusions.

Inhalant Addiction Signs & Symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lays out several additional diagnostic criteria those with inhalant use disorders tend to experience. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of treatment.

  1. Do you often use more of the drug than you intended, or take inhalants for a longer period of time than originally intended?
  2. Have you attempted to quit using your drug of choice on your own with limited success?
  3. Do you experience cravings for inhalants throughout the day?
  4. Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining inhalants, using inhalants, and recovering from the effects of inhalant use?
  5. Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your inhalant drug use?
  6. Do you continue to use inhalant drugs despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
  7. Have you been instructed to cut back on your inhalant use by a licensed healthcare professional, and have you made the decision to ignore their advice?
  8. Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of inhalant drugs, like driving while under the influence or mixing the drug with other substances like alcohol?
  9. Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your inhalant use?
  10. Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning more of the inhalant is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
  11. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut out inhalants entirely?

Treatment Options for Inhalant Addiction

The most effective treatment option for inhalant addiction and abuse includes a combination of evidence-based behavioral therapies, ongoing involvement in a peer support group, and psychiatric intervention whenever necessary. Because the psychological symptoms associated with inhalant withdrawal can be severe, medical detox often comes as a recommended first step. Many individuals tend to follow detox up with a long-term inpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment typically lasts for between 30 and 90 days depending on the unique needs of the individual. Once inpatient treatment concludes a personalized aftercare plan will be implemented in order to help prevent relapse. Aftercare plans often include a continuation of individual therapy and continued participation in a 12 Step program or alternative peer support program.

If you or someone close to you has been misusing inhalant drugs, seeking professional help is a step that should be taken as soon as possible. Without some degree of professional intervention, the symptoms associated with inhalant drug abuse can cause serious and irreversible damage. Contact us today to learn more about the treatment options available to you. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping you or your loved one get started on the road to long-term inhalant addiction recovery as quickly as possible.