The Forge Recovery Center

What Is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Inhalants are substances that can be found in everyday household items like cleaning products, gases, and medications. When these items are inhaled, they produce a high that can be addictive and dangerous.

This page talks about what inhalant abuse is, how common it is, and the risks associated with it. We will also talk about addiction treatment options for those who suffer from inhalant abuse.

What Is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant Addiction

How Does Inhalant Abuse Work?

Inhalant abuse works by inhaling the substance into the lungs. It's usually not the substance itself that gets people high: Many household goods include additives such as propellants which are psychoactive when inhaled.

Here's an example: Tolulene is an industrial solvent found in airplane glue, compressed air, and many other goods. NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports a study conducted in 2007 found tolulene acted similarly to illicit drugs on the brain's dopamine reward system.

When the substance is breathed in, it travels to the brain where it produces a high. Inhalants can be addictive and dangerous, and they can cause long-term health problems. Other methods involve discharging the solvent into balloons or paper bags and sniffing the fumes, or simply sniffing the solvents from open containers.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

What Are Common Inhalants?

There are many different types of inhalants. NIDA breaks them down into four categories:

Aerosols: Propellants used in aerosol cans such as hair spray, deodorant, and spray paints.

Volatile Solvents: Substances that dissolve other materials and are found in products like paint thinners, lacquer thinner, gasoline, and cleaning fluids.

Gases: Household items such as propane tanks, butane lighters, helium tanks, and refrigerants. Medical gases such as chloroform and nitrous oxide are commonly abused as well. This is dangerous -- there are risks of suffocation, and gases like chloroform and ether are flammable.

Nitrites: Somewhat rare, nitrites are medicines used as muscle relaxants and to treat heart pain. Although illegal for sale, they're often packaged as cleaners and room fresheners and sold as sexual aids.


What Are the Dangers of Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse is dangerous because the substances can be addictive and cause long-term health problems. Remember, air fresheners, bathroom cleaners, and furniture polish can smell nice, but they weren't made for human consumption. Breathing these products in can cause serious damage over the long term.

NIDA says inhalant abuse can damage the kidneys, the lungs, and the liver. The agency also warns inhalant abuse can even damage the bone marrow. Long-term inhalant abuse harms the nervous system and causes problems with brain development. This is especially troubling because children are the most likely to experiment with inhalants.

According to NIDA, inhalant abuse can predict substance abuse later in life. NIDA polled over 40,000 US adults and found inhalant users also used tobacco, alcohol, and other substances at an earlier age than others. Inhalant abusers are more likely to engage in substance abuse throughout their lives, too.

Finally, inhalants can also be lethal as well. The lethal risks of inhalant abuse depend on the substance being abused, but often include:

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS): This occurs when the heart stops beating due to shock after someone has engaged in inhalant abuse. Chemicals such as aerosols, butane, and propane are the most likely to cause SSDS.

Asphyxiation: Inhalants can displace oxygen in the lungs, leading to asphyxiation. This occurs when there's not enough oxygen in the air to support life.

Fire or Explosion: Inhalants are often volatile and flammable. Ingesting them can cause explosions, fires, and serious burns.

Signs of Inhalant abuse

Inhalant abuse has distinct signs, like other forms of substance abuse:

Empty containers of solvents, like spray paint cans

Stains on face, hands, and / or clothing

Symptoms similar to intoxication, such as slurred speech and difficulty walking

Chemical smells on clothing and breath

Unlike other forms of substance abuse, inhalant abuse tends to be somewhat rare. It does happen, however, and given the inherent risk of abusing chemicals finding a treatment program is advised.

Can Inhalant Abuse Be Treated?

Inhalant abuse can be treated, but it's often difficult. Inhalants leave the body quickly, and therefore aren't detected in standard drug tests. This makes it hard to determine whether someone is addicted to inhalants or not. In addition, because there are so many different types of inhalants, it's hard to create a one-size-fits-all treatment program.

That said, there are various programs that can help people addicted to inhalants. Inpatient and outpatient programs are available, and both are effective in treating inhalant abuse. Inpatient programs provide around-the-clock care in a controlled setting while outpatient programs allow patients to live at home and receive treatment when needed.

Take A Tour Of Our Facilities
life with the edge photo-1
life with the edge photo-2
life with the edge photo-3
life with the edge photo-4
life with the edge photo-5
CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.