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Inhalant Addiction Fast Facts

Inhalants are a general classification of intoxicating substances that are consumed by inhaling the vapors given off by chemical substances. Glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid are just a few of the substances often abused in this way.

Approximately 22 million Americans under the age of 12 have used inhalants at some point in their lifetimes. An estimated 750,000 Americans try inhalants for the first time each year.

The majority of inhalant users–about 58%–report using the substances for the first time by the time they were in the 9th grade. The rate of inhalant use is higher among white and Hispanic young people than it is among black students.

Studies have shown high rates of inhalant use among young people in probation programs, in treatment programs for psychosocial problems, and in programs for substance abuse or behavioral problems.

Long-term inhalant use can have severe, permanent, and sometimes fatal impacts on the user’s body.

What is Inhalant Addiction?

Inhalants are not a single specific drug, but rather a group of chemical agents whose vapors produce an intoxicating effect when they’re inhaled. The chemicals used as inhalants are usually common household or industrial products that are legal and have legitimate uses beyond their abuse as intoxicants.

Substances commonly used as inhalants include:

  • Deodorants
  • Hairsprays
  • Spray paints
  • Shoe polishes
  • Cooking sprays
  • Bottled propane
  • Butane lighter fluid
  • Whipped cream aerosols
  • Glue
  • Nail polish remover
  • Paint thinners
  • Solvents such as benzene or toluene
  • Gasoline

Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse and Addiction

The intoxicant caused by most inhalants is similar to alcohol intoxication. Users typically feel euphoria or feelings of dizziness that may be interpreted as pleasant. The vapors often cause unpleasant effects, however, even in the short-term and with limited use. These effects can include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Diminished reflexes
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle weakness or tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia

Even a single episode of inhalant intoxication can be dangerous, resulting in chemical burns, brain damage, coma, or death.

The intoxicating effects are usually fleeting, driving some users to abuse the substances frequently. Long-term abuse can lead to lasting neurological damage that can cause a range of physical and cognitive problems, including:

  • Memory impairment
  • Mental processing-speed impairment
  • Attention deficit
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Parkinson’s-like tremors and loss of muscle control
  • Organ damage (heat, lungs, liver, kidney)

Different inhalant substances produce different health risks, both short-term and long-term. Some of these effects may be reversible over time. Others may be permanent.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Inhalant Addiction?

Most young people who begin abusing inhalants report that peer pressure was the primary factor that drove them to try the practice for the first time. Once use of the substance begins, it’s relatively easy for the user to continue to abuse inhalants. Unlike most illicit drugs, inhalants are generally legal, easy to obtain, and relatively inexpensive.

Continued use of inhalants can lead to dependence and addiction. Physical dependence occurs when the inhalant causes changes in the user’s brain chemistry; these changes produce withdrawal symptoms when the user stops using the inhalant. Some substances also cause the user to build a tolerance to their effects, causing the need for increased use to produce the pleasant effects of intoxication. Toluene, for example, has been shown to produce tolerance within three months of consistent use.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Inhalant Addiction Hereditary?

Peer pressure and other external factors are among the most significant reasons that young people begin to experiment with inhalants. These factors are mostly a product of environment and don’t necessarily coincide with a family history of substance abuse. However, studies have shown that family history does play a role in increased risk of substance abuse and susceptibility to addictive behavior.

Some of the correlation between family history and inhalant abuse may be environmental. Young people who grow up in a home context in which substance abuse is the norm are more likely to abuse substances themselves. Studies have suggested a genetic predisposition toward dependence, however. This increased risk of addiction seems to be inherited.

Inhalant abusers also more often come from families in which deeper psychological tendencies such as impulsivity, risk-taking, and rule-breaking behavior are prevalent.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Inhalant Addiction Detected?

Inhalant abuse often goes undetected. The abused substances are very often common household products, so their presence in the home is not unusual. The process of using inhalants, too, is quick and relatively unobtrusive, so users can usually effectively hide their behavior. The effects of intoxication are also brief, so changes in behavior can be difficult to spot.

Warning signs of possible inhalant abuse include:

  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Chemical burns around the nose and/or mouth
  • Unexplained chemical odors
  • Chemical stains on clothing or on the user’s face
  • Slurred speech, lethargy, or signs of alcohol-like intoxication

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Inhalant Addiction Diagnosed?

Inhalant abuse is difficult for healthcare providers to detect. No laboratory tests or exams can detect the presence of chemicals in the body. If the user does not admit to using inhalants, abuse or dependence is not easy to prove. Practitioners will gather a health and family history and will usually rely on reasonable suspicion to conclude that inhalant abuse is the problem.

When the likelihood of inhalant use is established, dependence on the substances may be formally diagnosed as “inhalant use disorder.” To be diagnosed, inhalant use must cause significant impairment or distress, and at least two of the following symptoms must be present over a 12-month period:

  • Inhalant use is greater than the user intends, either in dosage or frequency.
  • The user has a desire to quit or has unsuccessfully tried to quit using inhalants.
  • The user spends significant time acquiring, using, or recovering from the inhalants.
  • The user has a strong craving for inhalants.
  • Inhalant use is interfering with the user’s obligations or responsibilities.
  • Inhalant use continues despite the harm it does to the user, physically or otherwise.
  • Inhalant use interferes with the user’s normal activities and routines.
  • Inhalants are used in dangerous situations.
  • Tolerance for the inhalant develops, creating the need for higher doses or more frequent use to achieve the same effect.
  • Abstinence from the inhalant causes withdrawal symptoms.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Inhalant Addiction Treated?

There are currently no medications that are known to effectively treat inhalant use disorder. Instead, treatment programs usually involved psychotherapy, group therapies, and support programs to assist in recovery.

Treatment approaches for inhalant dependence may include:

  • Detoxification. Treatment centers will often require that users undergo a detox period to remove the inhalant chemicals from their bodies. During this detox period, some users may experience withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and irritability.
  • Physical assessment. Because inhalants can cause severe and potentially life-threatening health problems, exams should be conducted to look for evidence of underlying physical conditions.
  • Psychological assessment. Inhalant abuse often goes hand in hand with abuse of other substances. Mental health issues such as major depression or anxiety disorders are often present, as well. These problems should be treated alongside treatment for inhalant abuse.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy helps inhalant users to recognize the triggers that prompt their substance abuse. The therapy also focuses on developing strategies and techniques for dealing with those triggers when they occur. CBT can be effective at preventing relapses once the patient has begun to abstain from drug use.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Inhalant Addiction Progress?

Long-term inhalant use can have severe, permanent, and sometimes fatal impacts on the user’s body. Effects can include:

  • Brain damage that produces tremors, slurred speech, deafness, vision impairment, and other neurological, cognitive, and psychological dysfunction
  • Emphysema-like lung impairment
  • Heart failure
  • Hepatitis and kidney failure
  • Leukemia
  • HIV-like immune-system impairment
  • Preeclampsia or miscarriage in pregnant women

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Is Inhalant Addiction Prevented?

Education about the dangers of inhalant use is essential because many young people do not fully understand the risks associated with the substances. Inhalants are less likely to produce dependence than some other drugs, leading young people to incorrectly assume that limited use is not as risky as it is for other drugs.

Drug abuse prevention programs can be effective when they target drug education at at-risk groups. Because inhalants are often abused in conjunction with other drugs and substances, it is important to address all forms of substance abuse in the prevention program.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Inhalant Addiction Caregiver Tips

Inhalant abuse is a problem that disproportionately affects young people, so the responsibility of caring for users typically falls to their parents and guardians. Inhalant use is insidious and notoriously difficult to prevent, too, making it difficult for parents to keep their children safe.

To reduce your child’s risk of being harmed by inhalant use, keep these tips in mind:

  • Educate your children. Children often think that because inhalants are legal, common household products, they are not especially dangerous. Make sure that your children know the extreme dangers associated with inhalant use. Also, be sure that they understand that even infrequent, casual use of the substances can have life-threatening consequences.
  • Don’t give your children a partial education. Young people who abuse inhalants very often abuse other drugs and substances, as well. When you teach your children about the dangers of drug abuse, be sure to emphasize that inhalant abuse is a substance use disorder like any other.
  • Be alert to the dangers. Know which products and chemicals can be used as inhalants, and keep track of them when they’re in your home. Look for the presence of suspicious products that you didn’t buy, and be watchful for the warning signs of inhalant use in your child.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Inhalant Addiction Brain Science

In the brain, the chemicals found in many inhalants attack and damage the protective layer surrounding nerve cells. The chemicals concentrate in the brain’s cells, and over time, exposure to the substances can kill the cells, resulting in the loss of healthy brain tissue or significant areas of damaged tissue. This damage, in turn, causes the neurological and psychological problems associated with inhalant abuse.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Inhalant Addiction Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Inhalant Addiction.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Inhalant Addiction, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Inhalant Addiction and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Barriers to Substance Use Disorder Recovery, and Treatment With Quetiapine for Youth With Substance Use Disorders and Severe Mood Dysregulationand Enhancing Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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