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Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

What are The Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse? Statistics on Inhalant Abuse. Inhalant Abuse Signs. What Are The Immediate Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse. What is Sudden Sniffing Death? What is Inhalant Dependence?

Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse – also known as volatile substance abuse, solvent abuse, sniffing, huffing and bagging – is the deliberate inhalation of a volatile substance to achieve an altered mental state. Inhalants are chemicals in the workplace and household products that produce chemical vapors. These vapors can be inhaled to induce mind-altering effects. Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed into the brain to produce a quick high. Chronic abuse of inhalants can result in irreversible side effects, such as coma and even death.

Abusers may inhale vapors directly from a container, from a bag into which a substance has been placed, or from a rag soaked with a substance and then placed over the mouth or nose. Intoxication occurs rapidly and is short-lived, although some abusers repeatedly or continuously self-administer inhalants to maintain a preferred level of intoxication.

Inhalant abuse is more common in males than females. Higher rates of inhalant abuse have been reported in those with a history of physical or sexual abuse, delinquency, criminal behavior, depression, suicidal behavior, antisocial attitudes, family conflict, violence, and/or drug abuse. Rates are also higher in people of lower income, the mentally ill, those living in rural communities and those in communities with high unemployment rates.

Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse
Treatment methods for inhalant abuse do not differ much from those used to treat addictive behavior. 
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Statistics on Inhalant Abuse

Although inhalant abuse is common and associated with harmful outcomes that may rival or exceed those of other psychoactive drugs, inhalants remain the least-studied class of psychoactive agents. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [2] more than 22 million Americans age 12 and older have used inhalants, and every year more than 750,000 use inhalants for the first time. Despite the substantial prevalence and serious toxicities of inhalant use, it has been termed “the forgotten epidemic.” Inhalant abuse remains the least-studied form of substance abuse  

  • An estimated 9 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and older—22.5 million people—has used an inhalant for its psychoactive properties at least once.
  • Inhalant use tends to start early, with 58 percent of users reporting first use by the end of ninth grade.
  • Fewer students in older grades than in younger grades (15.7 percent in 9th grade, 9.9 percent in 12th grade) reported having ever used an inhalant.
  • Most inhalant users initiate the behavior quite young, and most discontinue it quickly 
  • White and Hispanic students reported lifetime use rates (14.4 percent) that were about twice those of African Americans.
  • Important risk factors for inhalant use among middle and high school students include low levels of parental education and a lack of intention to complete 4 years of college.
  • More than half of eighth graders saw the regular use of inhalants as a “great risk,” but only a third attributed the same amount of danger to using an inhalant once or twice.

Commonly Abused Inhalant Products and Their Constituents


  • Airplane glueToluene, ethyl acetate
  • Other glues and cementsHexane, toluene, methyl chloride, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl butyl ketone, benzene, xylene, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, chloroform


  • Spray paint Butane, propane (U.S.), fluorocarbons, toluene, hydrocarbons, xylene
  • Hair spray Butane, propane (U.S.), chlorofluorocarbons
  • Deodorant; air freshener Butane, propane (U.S.), chlorofluorocarbons
  • Analgesic spray Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Asthma spray Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Fabric spray Butane, trichloroethane
  • PC cleaner Dimethyl ether, hydrofluorocarbons
  • Video head cleaner Ethyl chloride

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Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant use is associated with a large number of adverse effects and psychosocial outcomes.

Neurological and Cognitive Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Studies of occupationally exposed workers laid the foundation for much of what we know about inhalant-related cognitive deficits. Significant learning and memory impairments in journeyman painters relative to controls and evidence that many patients’ inhalant-related cognitive problems were slow to resolve. Even a single occupational exposure leading to inhalant intoxication can produce long-term memory problems and processing speed impairments. Inhalant abuse is characterized by exposures to neurotoxins at much higher levels than those typically incurred in occupational exposures.

side effects of inhalant abuse
Inhalants are not detected by routine urine drug screenings, so detection relies on the clinical diagnosis of knowledgeable medical professionals. 

Immediate Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalants are taken into the body via the mouth or nose, by either spraying it directly into the mouth, breathing in the chemical, or placing a chemical-soaked cloth in the mouth. Most inhalants act in an alcohol-like fashion, acting as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS).

Immediate effects of inhalants include:

  • Euphoria
  • Light-headedness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Possible hallucinations/delusions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Possible tissue damage to the areas that the inhalants come in touch with, such as nasal scarring and mouth sores.
  • Increased risk for stunted development in fetuses if used by pregnant women.
  • Anoxic brain injuries, coma and death (due to asphyxia, vomitus aspiration, or respiratory depression) may occur even after just one use of an inhalant, though this is less common.

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Long Term Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Chronic inhalant abuse has been shown to have irreversible and drastic neurological and neuropsychological effects, likely due to damage of myelin and neuronal membranes by lipophilic chemicals. More concentrated in neural tissue than in blood, these chemicals found in inhalants can cause cortical atrophy and lesions visible with neuroimaging. Inhalants have been known to result in brainstem dysfunction and a variety of cognitive, motor, and sensory deficits. Signs may include irritability, tremor, ataxia, nystagmus, slurred speech, decreased visual acuity and deafness.

Inhalant abuse can cause cardiomyopathy with distinct electrocardiographic changes. Dyspnea, emphysema-like abnormalities and other pulmonary debilitations, distal renal tubular acidosis and hepatitis can be caused by inhalant abuse. Hydrocarbons can result in bone marrow toxicity (causing aplastic anemia and leukemia), while volatile nitrites have been implicated in immune impairment and the replication of HIV and Kaposi’s sarcoma, and the creation of carcinogenic nitrosamine and methemoglobin as metabolites.

side effects of inhalant abuse
The harms associated with inhalant abuse are adverse,

Sudden Sniffing Death

Respiratory arrest due to central nervous system depression has been reported in at least one case, and sudden cooling of the larynx (by direct spraying of aerosols) has been suggested to cause fatal vagal depression. Likely due primarily to cardiac arrhythmia, ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ is the leading cause of death among inhalant abusers.

Inhalants disrupt myocardial electrical propagation – an effect heightened by hypoxia – increasing the risk of arrhythmia. Inhalants also sensitize the heart to adrenaline; sudden sniffing death can occur when a user is startled during inhalation (such as being caught inhaling) or in vivid hallucinations.

Deaths and injuries from acute abuse often result from dangerous behaviour (eg, drowning, falls or jumps, burns or hypothermia) due to disinhibition and feelings of invincibility, while aspiration and suffocation, especially when ‘bagging’, can also be fatal.

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Inhalant Abuse Signs

Early detection and intervention are the best ways to stop inhalant abuse before it causes serious health problems. Given that, parents, educators, family doctors, and other health care practitioners should be alert to the following addiction signs:

  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression

Inhalant Dependence

Inhalant users can arguably become psychologically and physiologically dependent upon inhalants over a period of longer-term use.

  • Psychological dependence is often characterized by using the substance even though it has negative life consequences, as well as a feeling of being compelled to continue using inhalants to have the feelings associated with use.
  • Physiological dependence occurs when users experience negative physical consequences when they stop using inhalants (such as withdrawal symptoms).

Inhalant Abuse Treatment

Underestimating the severity of Inhalants abuse can be dangerous. Misuse of the drugs can cause brain damage, liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, and death. These harmful effects can occur immediately after or while using the substance. Therefore, most individuals who suffer from Inhalant addiction need professional treatment.

Addiction treatment in an inpatient rehab center allows individuals struggling with inhalant abuse to overcome substance abuse in a safe environment, removed from any harmful triggers. In addition, a drug rehab center may provide professional care, evidence-based treatment methods, and peer support which makes all the difference in recovery success.

Because many addictions coincide with another disorder, it is vital that you find a rehab that specializes in treating co-occurring conditions.  This requires that the treatment program understands the importance of taking the time to discover if there is another disorder at hand that may be playing into a substance use disorder before treating only the substance abuse.  With a thorough investigation of an individual’s mental health condition before treatment, the individual will surely receive the most effective and comprehensive treatment for their addiction and mental health disorder.  Consequently, this only strengthens their chances of maintaining their sobriety upon leaving the rehab facility.

Detox Treatment

The first step in treatment is medical detox. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to addiction. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.


Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis programs treat both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

Now that we’ve learned about the side effects of inhalant abuse, hopefully, this will give you an idea of what drugs you’re dealing with. If you or your loved one is suffering from inhalant addiction, indeed, help is just a phone call away. Professional addiction treatment is necessary for fast and effective recovery. Contact us today at We Level Up treatment facility. We provide utmost care with doctors and medical staff available 24/7 for life-changing and lasting recovery. We offer an enhanced opportunity to return to a fulfilling and productive life.

side effects of inhalant abuse
Inhalant abuse is treatable. We only need to have your commitment to stop your substance abuse.

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[1] NIDA –
[2] NCBI –
[3] Risks of Inhalants Addiction – We Level Up Fl

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