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Inhalant Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

Not many people would consider inhaling paint thinner or gasoline, but some take the risk and become addicted to these substances. Because these products are not for human consumption and are loaded with harsh chemicals, they can cause damage to various parts of the body, especially over time.

What Are Inhalants?

Most inhalants are ordinary products you could pick up at a hardware store or supermarket. These include paint thinner, propane, gasoline, whipped cream cans, and bottles of glue. All of these products have strong chemical fumes that can be inhaled for the purpose of experiencing a strong feeling of euphoria.

Because they are so readily available, they are also easy to abuse. Inhalant abuse is especially common among teens and young adults. They likely already have these substances in their homes and want to know what it would be like to inhale the fumes.

Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

An inhalant use disorder is a problem that is specific to those who get addicted to inhalants. A substance use disorder is more general and can refer to anyone who has consistent problems with addiction and substance abuse. Inhalant use disorders are rare, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from them.

Those with this condition may have a particularly hard time responding to treatment for inhalants.

Signs of Addiction to Inhalants

Common signs of addiction include sweating, runny nose, watery eyes, clammy skin, nausea, and dizziness. Some may experience depression, anxiety, delusions, abdominal pain, seizures, and vomiting.

Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Many people who use inhalants might not suspect that anything is wrong with their use. Inhalants cause euphoria and feelings of giddiness. This can make a person more likely to keep using these substances. However, few realize that inhalants will eventually start causing grave health consequences.

Inhalants can cause brain damage, cognitive decline, and mental illness. They also damage the lungs and heart.

Dangers of Long-Term Inhalant Use

Using inhalants for many months or years can cause neurotoxic damage, followed by the development of neurological syndromes.[3] These syndromes can make it difficult for a person to move, talk, hear, and see. This brain damage could also lead to cognitive impairments, and it may even cause certain neurological conditions like dementia.

Side Effects of Inhalants

Inhalants are not currently classified under the Controlled Substances Act. Most of them have no human use, though some, such as nitrous oxide, may be used as a light sedative in the dental industry. Common side effects include a brief feeling of euphoria and happiness, followed by fatigue, nausea, pain, and difficulty breathing.

The general use of illicit drugs, including inhalants, seems to be particularly high among teenagers, since 15% of all high school students will use these substances in their lifetimes.[1] Common street names for inhalants include poor man’s pot, poppers, whippets, snappers, and rush.

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Statistics on Inhalant Use, Misuse, and Addiction

As of 2021, around 335,000 people suffered from an inhalant use disorder.[2] This may not sound like a lot, however, this is not the total scope of inhalant use. Millions of people use inhalants every year but do not have inhalant use disorders. They may instead have other substance use disorders, or they may use inhalants for recreational purposes.

Recreational use can quickly turn into an inhalant addiction.

A man in a white shirt using an inhaler for asthma or respiratory issues against a textured gray background.

Can You Overdose on Inhalants?

It is possible to overdose on inhalants, and those overdoses are often fatal. The body is not designed to handle such a huge influx of toxic chemicals in the brain. Sudden sniffing death is when a person dies soon after inhaling a harsh substance, such as butane or propane. Death usually occurs from the heart stopping or the cessation of respiration.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Overdose

Inhalant overdoses are often accompanied by seizures, fainting, confusion, and pain. Some may become unresponsive, and it may be impossible to wake them up even if you make loud noises or shake them.

If you suspect someone has overdosed on inhalants, you need to call 911 and stay with the person until help arrives.

How Inhalants Are Taken

Inhalants are aerosolized. The only way to consume them is to breathe them in. This can be very dangerous because the effects are immediate. Inhalants work differently compared to drugs that are taken orally. Oral drugs need to be broken down by the liver first, which weakens the dose.

Inhalants don’t go through the liver, and whatever you inhale goes straight to the brain through the blood. Many people die from overdoses because of this.

Mixing Inhalants with Other Drugs

Many teenagers will attempt to mix alcohol with inhalants. They may also use other illicit drugs, such as stimulants or hallucinogens. Mixing inhalants with anything can have very dangerous and sometimes even fatal consequences.

Inhalants are not typically cut with anything, but some users may try to consume several inhalants at once. Others may try to take inhalants with large quantities of alcohol or other drugs.

Inhalant Addiction Treatment

Detox placement is a great option for those who can’t seem to stop using inhalants. It allows you to fully eliminate the drugs from your body. Outpatient and intensive outpatient programs are also very helpful for better understanding your substance abuse problems. Treatment takes several months to a year for most people, and the cost will vary depending on the program you choose.

Therapies Used in Inhalant Addiction Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the best options for any kind of substance abuse treatment. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), family therapy, and art therapy may also be recommended as part of a holistic treatment plan.

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

While inhalants can make a person feel happy for a few moments, the feeling won’t last. Those who use inhalants often experience anxiety, panic, delusions, and paranoia. Some may develop psychotic problems, while others may experience significant cognitive decline.

A dual diagnosis occurs when an individual is simultaneously diagnosed with a substance use disorder and a mental health condition. Someone abusing inhalants may have anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder and use inhalants to alleviate unbearable symptoms.

For the best chance at a full recovery, both the addiction and underlying conditions must be addressed concurrently.

Inhalant Withdrawal Management Treatment

Detoxing is commonly thought to be a painful process, but medically supervised detox helps alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal helping control cravings. Detox is the first step in getting help, and is followed by admission into a treatment program.

Drugs Used in Inhalant Withdrawal Management

Drugs used in inhalant withdrawal management help reduce the discomfort of migraines, body aches, and other withdrawal side effects. Doctors may also provide anti-nausea medications as you go through the withdrawal process.. Drugs for withdrawal management can also make the process safer. The type of medications used in detox will depend on your individual circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Addictive Are Inhalants?

Inhalants can be quite addictive due to the way they stimulate the brain’s ability to experience pleasure. However, the adverse effects of many inhalants are so negative that they cause a person to feel gravely ill after using them. This spurs most people away from using them again, but some may develop inhalant use disorders that cause them to keep abusing the substances. Long-term use can lead to serious mental degradation and physical damage.

What Are the Different Types of Inhalants?

Most inhalants are common household items, such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner, spray paint, glue, and whipped cream cans. Butane, propane, and gasoline are also popular inhalants, but they are much more dangerous and can even cause a person to die instantly.

How Do Inhalants Work Instantly?

Inhalants work immediately because they don’t have to be broken down by the stomach or liver as with oral substances. Inhalants instead flow through the respiratory system, where they are absorbed into the blood. The blood from there travels very quickly to the brain, where the inhalants can enact their effects.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022e, September 29). High risk substance use in youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from on May 25, 2023.
  2. NIDA. 2023, January 23. What is the scope of inhalant use in the United States?. Retrieved from on May 25, 2023.
  3. NIDA. 2020, May 20. What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse?. Retrieved from on My 25, 2023.
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