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Published on May 1, 2023

Inhalant Abuse: Effects, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

Inhalant abuse can have a devastating effect on an individual’s physical and mental health. Every year, thousands of people suffer from the long-term effects of this type of drug abuse.

Unfortunately, many individuals don’t recognize the severity of their addiction until it’s too late. Hence, knowing the signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse may be pivotal to getting someone back on track toward recovery. 

This article covers essential information on inhalant abuse, enabling individuals to seek timely professional help and prevent further harm. It’s best to research online for healthcare provider websites, such as https://westcoastrecoverycenters.com/ to seek appropriate care and treatment as soon as possible.

Types Of Inhalants

Inhalant abuse can involve a variety of substances, including the following:


Gases are a type of inhalant that contributes to the risk of substance abuse. Inhaled gases, such as carbon monoxide, butane, and nitrous oxide, can be found in solvents, spray paints, and aerosol cans.


Nitrites are a group of inhalants used to produce psychoactive effects. They are often called ‘poppers’ and usually contain alkyl nitrite, amyl nitrite, or cyclohexyl nitrate. These chemicals can be found in butane lighters, cleaning products, air fresheners, paint removers, leather polish, and other industrial solvents.

Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are substances that come in liquid form and can be inhaled for their intoxicating effects. Examples include paint thinners, gasoline, glue, aerosols, and cleaning fluids. Volatile solvents produce a high similar to alcohol or marijuana intoxication but last much shorter – typically only 15 minutes or less.


Aerosols are a type of substance that is often abused as an inhalant. They contain compounds like hydrocarbons, which can lead to serious health complications when inhaled. The most common types of aerosol products used in this way include spray paint, computer cleaning fluids, and air fresheners.

Side Effects Of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse affects the body in many ways. It can cause lasting physical and mental damage, with some permanent effects. Here are some of its typical side effects:


Headaches are a common symptom of inhalant abuse. They can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. In some cases, the headaches may last for days. It’s important to note that other factors, such as dehydration, could also cause these symptoms. Hence, getting proper medical attention is vital if you experience sudden or intense head pain while inhaling.

Blurred Vision

Another common symptom of inhalant abuse is blurred vision. Both short-term and long-term use of volatile solvents or aerosol sprays can cause this. Short-term effects may include temporary blurring, while long-term use can cause permanent damage to the eyesight. Inhaling these substances can impair the optic nerve—a nerve responsible for vision—resulting in diminished visual acuity. Other symptoms accompanying this loss of vision are dryness and redness around the eye area and sensitivity to light.

Nausea And Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are another common side effects of inhaling chemical vapors. Inhaled chemicals can irritate the digestive tract, resulting in nausea and vomiting, usually accompanied by dizziness. When an individual repeatedly abuses inhalants, they may experience chronic nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, and electrolyte imbalance.

Brain Damage

Inhalants can cause permanent damage to a person’s nervous system and affect how they think, remember things, make decisions, and cope with stress. This can lead to memory loss, difficulty concentrating, poor judgment and decision-making skills, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

The most serious consequence of long-term inhalant use is ‘sudden sniffing death.’ This is caused by cardiac arrest resulting from the inhalation of volatile chemicals that may contain high levels of carbon monoxide or other toxic substances. Brain damage from inhalants can also be irreversible if not treated early enough, sometimes leading to coma or even death.

Lung Damage

Notably, inhalant abuse can cause severe damage to the lungs. Long-term use of inhalants, even in small amounts, can lead to permanent organ damage and other serious health problems.

The effects on the lung include the following:

  • Inflammation: Inhaling vapors and fumes from certain substances can cause inflammation in the airways, leading to irritation, coughing, chest pain or tightness, wheezing, and breathing difficulties.
  • Lung Damage: Chronic inhalant users are at risk for developing a range of respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, due to long-term exposure to toxic chemicals in some inhalants. Over time, these toxins can weaken and scar the lung tissue, which results in difficulty in breathing.
  • Asthma: Some people who abuse inhalants may develop asthma due to prolonged usage. Asthma is a chronic condition that affects your ability to breathe correctly, resulting in shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.

These adverse physical symptoms of inhalant abuse require medical attention, and treatment options should be discussed with a healthcare provider. 

Immune System Weakness

Inhalant abuse can weaken a person’s immune system, leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses and infections. Inhaling solvents and aerosol sprays causes an inflammatory response in the lungs which can leave them weakened for some time after use. This means that people abusing inhalants may be unable to fight off common illnesses, and someone with an otherwise healthy body would. 

It’s also important to note that these toxins will damage the user’s respiratory tract and cause their overall health to deteriorate over time if they do not receive proper treatment. As the toxins accumulate in the body, users can become increasingly susceptible to illnesses, making it even more difficult for them to recover from their addiction without professional help.

Symptoms Of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse has many physical and mental health symptoms that can occur shortly after inhalation. These range from mild to severe, depending on the strength of the substance inhaled and how often it is used. 

Below are signs you should watch out for:

Changes In Behavior  

Changes in behavior, including apathy, are common in those who abuse inhalants. When someone is under the influence of an inhalant, they often display signs such as:

  • Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Unresponsiveness or lethargy
  • Disruptive behavior or aggression
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused

These changes can be difficult for friends and family members to witness and may cause relationship tension. Loved ones must educate themselves on how to best support their friend or family member through recovery from inhalant abuse and its associated behaviors. 

Ulcers Or Irritation  

Ulcers or irritation around the nose and mouth are common effects of inhalant abuse. It’s caused by direct contact with toxic chemicals, which can burn delicate skin tissue. In severe cases, blisters may form on the lips or inside of the nostrils due to exposure. Ulceration of the nasal septum is also possible from the chronic use of specific inhalants such as gasoline.  


Paranoia is one of the most common effects of inhalant abuse. It can manifest as feelings of being watched, suspiciousness, or irrational thoughts and behaviors. Paranoia may lead to anxiety and depression, making it difficult for someone who uses inhalants to cope with everyday life. In severe cases, paranoia can be accompanied by hallucinations and delusions that could further interfere with a person’s ability to function.

Evident Chemical Odors  

Chemical odors on the breath or clothes are often associated with inhalant abuse. These toxic fumes can be so strong that they’re noticeable to other people nearby, such as family members and friends of the abuser. If you smell chemical odors coming from someone, it could be a sign they are actively abusing inhalants. It’s essential to take this clue seriously and look for additional symptoms of substance use disorder.

The type of odor varies depending on what kind of substances the user is inhaling. Solvent-based substances like paint thinners may emit a sweet smell, while gasoline produces a strong scent.

Slurred Speech

Slurred speech arises when the user has difficulty forming words or speaking clearly due to the effects of the substance on their brain and body. The degree of slurring can vary from mild to severe, depending on how much was ingested. Individuals who are experiencing this symptom should seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment Methods For Inhalant Abuse

Treatment for inhalant abuse typically involves a combination of behavioral and pharmacological interventions, such as the following:

Motivational Interventions

Motivational interventions can be effective in treating inhalant abuse. This intervention encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions and make positive life changes. It also provides them with skills and support to help them manage or reduce their use of inhalants.

The following are some critical components of motivational interventions:

  • Developing an understanding of substance use disorders and identifying personal triggers that could lead to relapse
  • Setting goals related to reducing or eliminating the use of inhalants
  • Exploring new coping strategies and self-help tools such as tracking progress, managing cravings, mindfulness practice, and the like.

These interventions focus on helping individuals gain insight into why they may have turned to inhaling substances in the first place by exploring any underlying mental health issues or other challenges that might have contributed. Through this process, users can develop a better sense of themselves and build a strong foundation for long-term recovery from inhalant abuse. Many individuals successfully overcome their addiction with increased motivation and a supportive environment. 

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT is another evidence-based approach to treating inhalant abuse. It involves helping the patient identify and modify the negative thoughts and behaviors contributing to their substance use disorder. It also teaches them how to recognize situations in which they might be vulnerable to using it again so that they can develop coping skills to avoid relapse.

The goals of CBT include increasing self-awareness, improving problem-solving abilities, developing healthy coping strategies, and managing emotions more effectively. Typically, the therapist works with the patient one-on-one to help them gain insight into their behavior patterns and learn new ways of responding to triggers. 

With a combination of education and practice, patients can better understand why they may have turned to inhalants in the first place and build healthier habits for dealing with stressors going forward. This enables them to create an action plan for recovery that will work best for them and increase their chances of remaining abstinent over time.

Family Counselling

Family counseling is an integral part of treating inhalant abuse. It can help family members understand their loved one’s addiction and learn how to support them through recovery. Family therapy sessions may also be used to identify underlying issues that have been contributing to the problem or have been caused by it.

Counseling helps strengthen family communication, providing a safe space for everyone involved to express themselves without fear of judgment. This allows people to understand each other’s feelings better and encourages healthy relationships between family members. 

Therapists can also guide families in understanding triggers and relapse prevention strategies. These positive changes will set everyone involved for success as they transition into healthier lifestyles and relationships. With its help, individuals struggling with this issue can get back on track toward recovery and overall well-being with the support of their loved ones behind them.  

Support Groups And 12-Step Programs

Support groups and 12-step programs are two of the many methods available for treating inhalant abuse. These typically focus on helping sufferers develop coping skills to reduce their use of inhalants. They may also provide emotional support by offering a safe space in which people can talk about their experiences without judgment or stigma.

In addition to providing peer support, these groups often offer educational materials to help participants learn more about living with addiction and make healthy lifestyle changes. For instance, they may teach members how to identify triggers that lead them to use inhalants and ways to manage difficult emotions that could lead to relapse. Some also have online resources, such as virtual meetings or forums where members can find information and connect with others who understand what they’re going through.

Although attending group sessions doesn’t guarantee recovery from inhalant addiction, it can be an important part of treatment for many individuals seeking help for this condition. Before deciding, it’s vital for those looking into these types of programs to research different options so that they can find one that best fits their needs and goals.


Inhalant abuse is a severe problem that can cause long-term damage to the body. Many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be and underestimate its effects. That’s why it’s essential to educate yourself on potential risks associated with this type of substance use so you can make an informed decision if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can be tempted to use an inhalant.

Furthermore, it’s also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse, so those around you can get help as soon as possible, should they need it. So, if you or someone you know is suffering from inhalant abuse, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Remember that many sources are available and willing to assist. Don’t let fear or shame stand in your way, keep in mind that getting treatment early could save lives.

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