Inhalant Abuse: Signs, Symptoms, Withdrawal Risks & Treatment

Inhalants are drugs in the form of toxic chemicals and substances that are inhaled by means of sniffing or an act called huffing. Inhalants typically offer short-term highs, along with serious health consequences that can lead to organ failure and death.

Understanding Inhalant Abuse

Most inhalants are everyday household products that can be inhaled or huffed to achieve euphoria and disorientation. Inhalants are normally abused by children and teens who can easily access these products in their homes. Though physical addiction to inhalants is rare, those who abuse these substances can suffer from psychological addiction and substance use disorder, and experience problems in their lives on behalf of drug use.

Inhalant use depresses the central nervous system, and produces short-term effects including dizziness, slurred speech, and loss of coordination. Many users compare the high produced by inhalants to that produced by alcohol. The effects of inhalants can be felt within seconds, and usually last for only several minutes.

Inhalants commonly abused include the following:

  • Spray paint
  • Glue
  • Rubber cement
  • Paint thinner
  • Nail polish remover
  • Gasoline
  • Cooking spray
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Felt-tip markers
  • Hair spray
  • Propane tanks
  • Whipped cream aerosols
  • Helium
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Ether
  • Choloroform
  • Leather cleaner

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse can affect your overall health both physically and mentally. Most people who abuse inhalants exhibit signs of drunken behavior such as slurred speech and clumsiness.

Common signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse are:

  • Dazed appearance
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Sedation
  • Red nose and eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sores or rashes around the mouth
  • Chemical odor on breath
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Short-term amnesia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Paint stains on skin and clothing
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvents
  • Chemical-soaked rags or clothing

Inhalant use can be deadly, especially for teens and children whose brains and bodies are still developing.

Dangers & Risk Factors Associated with Inhalant Abuse

Inhalants are highly toxic chemicals that are not meant for human consumption and offer a number of serious health risks. Inhalant use increases the risk for health complications including brain damage, nerve damage, and memory loss.

Serious side effects and health risks associated with inhalant abuse are:

  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Mood and personality disorders
  • Spasms in hands and feet
  • Suffocation
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Brain damage due to lack of oxygen
  • Kidney damage
  • Leukemia
  • Lung damage
  • Liver damage
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Heart failure
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

The toxic chemicals in inhalants can also trigger inflammation throughout the body, which increases the risk for cancer and organ damage. Using inhalants in highly concentrated amounts can lead to an overdose or sudden death, especially with repeated inhalations. Sudden sniffing death is often associated with chemicals found in aerosol products, as well as propane and butane.

Common signs of an inhalant overdose include:

  • Loud buzzing sound in the ears
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Double vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow reflexes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Who’s At Risk of Inhalant Abuse & Addiction?

You may be at high risk for inhalant abuse and addiction if you meet one or more certain criteria or risk factors. Children and teens are at high risk for inhalant abuse, as well as those who suffer from peer pressure and mental health disorders such as social anxiety.

Common risk factors for inhalant abuse and addiction include:

  • Having a personal history of drug abuse or addiction
  • Having a family history of drug abuse or addiction
  • Being a child or teen
  • Having a history of trauma or abuse
  • Suffering chronic stress
  • Suffering from one or more co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Being surrounded by negative influences at home
  • Having problems with career, education, or family

If you or your loved one meets any of the above risk factors for inhalant abuse, your next step is to seek help in the form of addiction treatment. Inhalant addiction treatment can help you overcome substance use disorder, and learn to live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle free of drug use.

Inhalant Addiction

Though inhalants are highly dangerous to your health, these substances are mildly addictive from a physical standpoint. However, those who abuse inhalants can form a psychological addiction to these substances, which can be treated using counseling and similar therapies. Inhalant addiction can cause problems with your overall livelihood, and make it difficult for you to maintain your career, education, and personal relationships.

Suffering from inhalant addiction also increases your risk for addiction to other substances. Those who want to seek more intense, longer-lasting highs may start using other drugs in addition to inhalants. Combining inhalant use with substances such as alcohol and painkillers can lead to an overdose, coma, or death.

Am I Addicted to Inhalants?

When you’re caught up in addiction, it can be difficult to determine whether you truly need help until it’s too late. You may be addicted to inhalants if you require these substances to feel “normal” from day to day, or if you neglect important life responsibilities to make more time in your life for inhalant use and recovery from inhalant use.

If you’re using inhalants and think you might have a problem with addiction, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you need help.

  • Do I use inhalants to feel more confident or social in social settings?
  • Do I make excuses to use inhalants?
  • Am I using inhalants to escape feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety?
  • Am I using inhalants to self-medicate one or more mental health disorders?
  • Am I using inhalants with alcohol and other drugs?
  • Is inhalant use causing problems with my job, education, and personal relationships?
  • Am I having problems quitting inhalant use?
  • Am I continuing to use inhalants despite existing or looming health problems?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from inhalant addiction or substance use disorder. Your next step is to speak with a drug abuse counselor about nearby addiction treatment centers that can help.

Inhalant Addiction Treatment Options

Inhalant addiction is usually treated using detoxification, counseling, and aftercare. Detoxification helps you withdraw from inhalants by reducing the amount of these substances in your body. Counseling helps you overcome psychological causes of inhalant addiction such as depression, anxiety, and negative thought-processes that drive your urge to use.

The best drug rehab centers will customize inhalant addiction treatments just for you or your loved one based on factors including age, gender, and the type of inhalant being abused. For instance, teens who abuse inhalants may benefit most from joining treatment programs geared specifically toward youth. Those who also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and PTSD may benefit most from behavioral counseling that teaches them how to manage these disorders.

Other common addiction treatments for inhalant abuse include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family counseling
  • 12-step support groups
  • Addiction education
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management therapy
  • Recreational therapy


Detoxification is often the first stage of inhalant addiction treatment. Detox treatments help rid your body of the harmful toxins and chemicals found in inhalants, and boosts your overall health and immune system function. Medically assisted detox is one of the most common detox treatments for inhalant abuse.

Medically assisted detox is performed in a safe, controlled medical environment where medical staff can monitor your health and progress throughout treatment. Inhalant withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, but can be more painful and severe for individuals who have abused inhalants for an extended period of time.

Medical detox may involve the use of medications that help treat and reduce the severity of certain inhalant withdrawal symptoms. These medications often pose a low risk for addiction, and are used short-term for the duration of detox. For example, you may be prescribed an anticonvulsant to lower the risk for seizures.

Common inhalant withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pains
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Convulsions


Recovering from inhalant abuse at an addiction treatment center improves your chances of achieving sobriety and staying clean for life. Drug rehab centers treat addiction as a whole so you can emerge from rehab feeling physically and mentally healthier. Going to drug rehab for inhalant addiction can drastically lower your risk for serious health complications including organ failure and death.

Your stay at drug rehab can last anywhere from several days to several months, depending on how long it takes you to fully overcome addiction. For instance, if you’ve been abusing inhalants for a few months, you may only need 30 days in which to fully overcome addiction. On the other hand, if you’ve been abusing inhalants for several years, you may need long-term rehab treatment that lasts a minimum of six months.

Following detox, your addiction treatment will consist mainly of counseling and similar therapies aimed at helping you overcome psychological addiction. Counseling helps you identify behaviors that led to inhalant abuse in the first place, and teaches you how to overcome these behaviors so you can avoid drug use in the future. You’ll also learn how to handle yourself in situations that could lead to relapse or drug and alcohol use.

Counseling is often conducted in individual, group, and family sessions. Twelve-step support groups like Narcotics Anonymous are also available to teach you new tips and tricks for staying clean, and allow you to bond with other recovering addicts sharing similar struggles. Behavioral counseling is available to help you manage and/or overcome root causes of addiction such as trauma, social anxiety, and domestic abuse.