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Inhalants Addiction and Treatment

Inhalant abuse, also known as volatile substance abuse, is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors through the mouth or nose that produce a range of psychoactive effects. These substances are found in common household items such as cleaning fluids, glue, gasoline, lighter fluid, spray paints and spray cans, and paint thinners.

Due to their easy accessibility and low cost, inhalants are often abused by young adults and teenagers. Inhalant intoxication can result in a variety of dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences, making it important to recognize the signs of inhalant abuse and seek treatment immediately.

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What is an Inhalant?

An inhalant is any chemical substance that can produce mind-altering effects when inhaled. They typically fall into three categories: volatile solvents, gases, and nitrates. Solvents are found in glue, nail polish remover, and paint thinner products.

Gases include substances like butane, propane, and nitrous oxide (commonly known as “laughing gas”). Nitrates are usually found in products like air fresheners and leather cleaners.

Commonly Abused Inhalant Substances

A few are notably common among the myriad of substances that can be abused as inhalants. Types of inhalants encompass:

  • Spray paint, often used by artistically inclined individuals, contains propellants and volatile solvents that can be misused to produce a psychoactive effect.
  • Propane tanks, commonly used for outdoor grilling or camping heating equipment, contain gas propane, which, when inhaled, can induce a state of euphoria.
  • Felt tip markers, seemingly innocuous stationary items, contain solvents that can be abused.
  • Medical anesthetics, such as ether and nitrous oxide, also fall into this category; they are intended for professional medical usage to induce or maintain anesthesia during surgical procedures, but their misuse can lead to serious health risks.
  • Aerosol sprays, including hair spray and deodorant, are often abused due to their quick onset of psychoactive effects. These products contain propellants like butane or propane gas.
  • Nitrites, commonly known as “poppers,” are a type of inhalant made from amyl nitrite and are used to enhance sexual experiences. They can also induce a sense of lightheadedness and relaxation when inhaled.

The Role of a Paper or Plastic Bag

A plastic or paper bag plays a dangerous role in inhalant abuse. Inhalant users often spray or pour the inhalant substance into these bags and then breathe in the fumes from within the bag.

This method, known as ‘bagging’, increases the concentration of the inhaled substance, thereby enhancing the psychoactive effects of inhalants experienced by the user. However, this practice significantly heightens the risk of suffocation, highlighting the severe dangers associated with inhalant abuse.

inhalants addiction

How Does Inhalant Abuse Happen?

Inhalant abuse occurs when an individual intentionally breathes in the fumes or vapors of these chemical substances. This can be done by directly inhaling from the container, spraying the substance into a bag and inhaling, or pouring the substance onto a cloth or rag and sniffing it.

The effects of inhalant abuse are similar to those of alcohol intoxication, producing a sense of euphoria and relaxation. What makes inhalants addictive is the rapid onset of these effects, which encourages repeated use to maintain the ‘high’. However, inhalant abuse can quickly lead to addiction and a host of negative consequences.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

The short-term effects of inhalant abuse can include dizziness, lightheadedness, slurred speech, loss of coordination, hallucinations, and even unconsciousness. These effects typically last for a few minutes and can be extremely dangerous, especially if the individual is engaging in activities like driving or swimming while under the influence of inhalants.

Repeated use of inhalants can lead to long-term health problems such as liver and kidney damage, brain damage, hearing loss, muscle weakness, and nerve damage. Chronic inhalant abuse can also result in significant cognitive and behavioral changes, leading to difficulty with memory, attention, and decision-making skills. An individual may also experience issues with their central nervous system, blood vessels, and blood flow.

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An inhalant overdose happens when an individual inhales a large amount of the substance, leading to suffocation or cardiac arrest. This can result in permanent brain damage or even death.

Signs of Inhalant Addiction

Some common signs of inhalant addiction include:

  • Frequent use of household products for non-intended purposes
  • Paint or stains on the face, hands, or clothing
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Slurred speech and difficulty walking or standing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mood swings or changes in behavior
  • Weight loss
inhalant addiction

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms

Chronic inhalant abuse can result in physical and psychological dependence, leading individuals to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop abusing inhalants. These symptoms may include nausea, tremors, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and irritability. In severe cases, some individuals may experience hallucinations or delusions. It is essential to seek medical assistance when attempting to detox from inhalants.

Treatment for Inhalant Addiction

Treatment for inhalant addiction typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy can help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction and develop coping mechanisms to prevent relapse. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous can provide a sense of community and accountability during recovery. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms or co-occurring mental illness.

Medical Detox Programs

Inhalant addiction can be challenging to overcome, and individuals may benefit from enrolling in a medical detox program. These programs provide 24/7 medical support and supervision while an individual goes through the withdrawal process. This can help manage any potential complications and ensure a safe and comfortable detoxification experience.

Therapy Services for Individuals Who Abuse Inhalants

Therapy services for individuals struggling with inhalant abuse may include cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors, and motivational interviewing, which helps individuals find their own motivation for recovery.

Group therapy sessions may also be beneficial, as they provide a supportive environment to share experiences and receive feedback. Family therapy can also be beneficial in repairing relationships that may have been damaged by addiction.

Treating Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

Individuals with inhalant addiction may also have underlying mental disorders that contribute to their substance abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment is essential for psychiatric comorbidity, as it addresses both the addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders simultaneously. This can improve the individual’s overall recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.

Is Residential Care Needed for Inhalant Addiction?

In severe cases of inhalant addiction, residential treatment may be necessary. Residential care provides a structured and supportive environment for individuals to focus on their recovery without distractions or access to inhalants.

It can also provide medical supervision during the detox process and offer therapies specifically tailored to address addiction and any underlying mental struggles. Supportive care may also be a beneficial option for individuals who struggle with chronic abuse.

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Outpatient Programs for Inhalant Use Disorders

Outpatient treatment programs are another option for individuals who abuse inhalants. This type of substance abuse treatment allows individuals to continue living at home while attending therapy sessions and support groups several times a week.

Outpatient care may be more suitable for those with mild inhalant use disorders or those who have completed a residential program and need ongoing support in their recovery journey. Types of outpatient programs for individuals abusing inhalants include:

  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) that require several hours of therapy and support groups each week
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) provide more structure and supervision than IOPs but less than residential care
  • Standard outpatient programs with weekly sessions for continued support in recovery.

Risk Factors for Inhalant Dependence

Some risk factors increase an individual’s likelihood of inhalant use, including:

  • Age: Adolescents and young adults are at a higher risk due to peer pressure and curiosity.
  • Mental health struggles: Individuals with underlying mental illness may turn to inhalants as a form of self-medication.
  • Family history: Those who have a family history of substance use disorders are more likely to develop one themselves.

Resources for Inhalant Abusers

If you or a loved one is struggling with inhalant abuse, there are resources available to help, including:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA provides a number of resources to help individuals struggling with the effects of inhalants, including a treatment facility locator tool. Individuals can use the tool to find substance use treatment and mental health care.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Narcotics Anonymous is a support group for individuals seeking recovery from addiction. NA meetings are open to anyone looking to address their drug addiction, including inhalant use disorder. It can help individuals to speak with others who have abused inhalants in the past and are now in long-term recovery.

Drug Use Treatment for Inhalants

If you or a loved one is using inhalants regularly, it may be time to seek professional help. At Woburn Addiction Treatment, our experienced professionals provide individualized treatment planning to address each client’s unique needs. We offer a range of evidence-based therapies and support services to assist in long-term recovery from inhalant abuse.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment process and how we can help you or your loved one on the path to recovery. Remember, there is always hope for a better future free from inhalant abuse.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide (third edition).
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, July). Inhalants research report.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, April). Inhalants DrugFacts.
  4. Lipari, R.N. (2017, June 13). Understanding adolescent inhalant use. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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