Inhalants Symptoms and Warning Signs

Inhalants cover a wide variety of substances, including solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrates(or ‘poppers’). These substances can be abused recreationally, either by inhalation or volatilisation. This is unlike some other addictive substances that might be smoked or injected.

Obtaining inhalants is easy for an addict, as common household products or work materials can be used. Examples of such products include spray paint, cleaning fluids, markers, glues, and paint thinners. Depending on the product, an addict will react differently to inhaling the fumes or vapours. Some of the product specific reactions commonly witnessed from inhalant abuse include:

  • Amyl nitrite for an intense high
  • Glue for a mellow high
  • Nitrous oxide for sedation

If you are an inhalant addict or know someone who is, it’s important to know that the fleeting ‘high’ of inhalant abuse is often followed by a variety of long-term side effects. These can vary in terms of severity and can affect you physically, psychologically, as well as socially. One of the most complex side effects of inhalant abuse is the high likelihood of developing an addiction after abusing inhalants over a period of time.

If you’ve been abusing inhalants or have a loved one who you suspect of addiction, below are some easily recognisable symptoms that might manifest.

Quick Ways to Recognise Inhalant Abuse in a Loved One

Letting inhalant abuse or addiction go untreated can lead to devastating effects on your emotional wellbeing, health and social life, but getting the appropriate help in time can lead to a full recovery. If any of these symptoms of inhalant abuse sound familiar, please contact a specialist rehab facility as soon as possible to arrange an intervention:

  • A strange/distinct chemical smell hovering around the inhalant abuser (the scent might remind you of fresh paint)
  • A facial blemish or rash where the inhalant has blistered the skin
  • Slurring of speech
  • Mild ‘highs’
  • Sedation
  • Appearance of drunkenness
  • Jerky reactions
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of motor control
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of appetite

The above symptoms can all be indicators of inhalant abuse or addiction.

There is nothing shameful about getting help with an addiction. The sooner you get help, the better. This is because inhalant addiction can eventually lead to long-term damage to your mental and physical health. In worst cases, the end result can be fatal.

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How Definitive Are Inhalant abuse symptoms?

Some of the symptoms of inhalant abuse might be mistaken for those of other ailments or substances. If you are abusing inhalants, you’re probably familiar with at least some of the symptoms already indicated.

If you suspect any of your loved ones are suffering from substance abuse – and you have on more than one occasion witnessed any of the above symptoms – be sure to monitor them closely to verify your suspicions. In particular, look out for blisters or rashes on the face, as well as a chemical smell on their clothing, as these are classic symptoms associated with inhalant abuse.

Inhalant Overdose: What you need to know

Regular abuse of inhalants can lead to both psychological and physical dependence. After abusing inhalants over a period of time, you will likely develop a craving or urge to continue, even after you realise the habit is destructive and unhealthy.

In the event you continue abusing inhalants, the risk of overdose increases. An inhalant overdose can have serious health complications and might even prove fatal. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that up to 200 people die every year from inhalant abuse. Therefore, if you suspect an inhalant overdose, please contact a health professional immediately.

Some signs and symptoms of inhalant overdose include:

  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma

The chemicals found in inhalants were never made for human consumption. These substances can be so powerful that they lead to a greatly elevated heart rate within seconds of use. The sudden effect on your cardiac system can lead to heart failure and even death.

Aside from heart failure, other health complications that inhalant overdose can lead to include: asphyxiation, suffocation, seizures (epilepsy), choking and accidents caused by loss of motor control or unclear thinking.

As the intoxicating effects of inhalants only last for a few short minutes, this often leads to repeated abuse within a short time, as the ‘high’starts to diminish. The frequency of abuse is what increases the risk of overdose. Regardless, the frequency of use, sniffing inhalants at any time can lead to an overdose, especially in individuals such as long-term users, abusers who combine inhalants, and people who continuously increase dosage.

Some of the riskiest chemicals to abuse as inhalants are butane/propane, freon, trichloroethylene, and nitrites/nitrates. If you or someone you know is suffering from an inhalant overdose, contact emergency services immediately.

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How Inhalant Addiction Develops

Due to the easy accessibility of inhalants -be it at home, school, or in the workplace – seemingly anyone can obtain them. If you’re an inhalant user, it’s important to know that repetitive abuse of the substance over a period of time can eventually lead to a constant craving for more inhalants. That’s how addiction begins and it exacerbates when you feel a constant need to ‘huff’ or actively begin seeking a desired level of ‘high’.

Inhalant addiction can stem from various causes which will influence its rate of progression. Said influences can be biological in nature, orbe brought on by psychological or social issues. For instance, if you have a family history of drug use or alcoholism, you’re likely to be at greater risk of becoming addicted to inhalants. Psychological factors that lead to addiction can stem from unresolved traumas or tragedies, which can make you more vulnerable to seeking an escape via substance abuse. Social factors such as peer pressure and environmental conditions can also lead to developing an inhalant habit.

Methods of Use for Inhalants

A ‘high’ is achieved from inhalants by breathing in its chemical vapours. The substances that can be abused as inhalants are wide ranging, but some of the most commonly abused ones are those such as aerosol sprays, solvents, gases and nitrites. These can be found as common products such as gasoline, shoe polish, spray paint, glue, hair spray, cooking spray, rubber cement, paint thinner and lighter fluid. These inhalants can be consumed in any of the following ways:

  • Sniffing or snorting of thechemical’s fumes from containers
  • Spraying of aerosols into the mouth or nose
  • Bagging; This involves inhaling fumes from chemicals deposited in a paper or plastic bag
  • Huffing; This involves sniffing an inhalant-soaked rag or stuffing it in the mouth
  • Inhaling nitrous oxide from filled balloons

What Happens to the Body During Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalants affect the body as nervous system depressants. This means that when you ingest inhalants, it slows down brain function. This occurs by the components of the fumes being absorbed into your bloodstream quickly, which in turn leads to the substance taking effect within a matter of seconds. The effects of inhalant abuse are very similar to the same sensation one gets from alcohol abuse. The difference is the effects of inhalants are felt far faster, because the chemicals are absorbed directly into the blood through the lungs, unlike alcohol, which first has to go through the stomach. Once the effects/high of inhalant use passes, it is often followed by a headache.

Short-Term effects of Inhalants Abuse

The intensity of the high from abusing inhalants is dependent on the strength of the chemical, as well as the dosage. Abusing inhalants can lead to mind-altering effects which can prove to be dangerous, as it impacts your central nervous system and slows brain activity. After the initial ‘rush’ from sniffing inhalants, what often follows is agitation, drowsiness, and light-headedness.

Other short-term side effects that you might experience from abusing inhalants include:

  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lingering headache
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Slurred speech

Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse

While the short term effects of inhalant abuse are relatively mild, its long term effects can actually result in likely irreversible physical, mental and behavioural disorders. Some of these include:

  • Bone marrow damage
  • Brain damage
  • Delayed behavioural development
  • Hearing loss
  • Limb spasms
  • Heart problems or even heart failure
  • Liver and kidney damage

Younger inhalant abusers are at greater risk, as they might experience decreased IQ, permanent changes in cognition, as well as lifetime issues with depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviour. For all ages, there’s also the danger of Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS), which refers to people who die after a single session of inhalant use.

Behavioural Symptoms of Inhalant Addiction

Symptoms of inhalant addiction can manifest in a number of ways. They can easily be mistaken as signs of something else, but the following are behavioural symptoms that have become associated with inhalant addiction:

  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of excitement and euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of self-control
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
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Physical Effects of Inhalants Addiction

Recreational use of inhalants can cause serious damage to your vital organs and your general health. Some of the physical effects most commonly associated with inhalant addiction include:

  • Brain damage caused by lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Spasms in hands and feet
  • Suffocation

Psychological consequences of Inhalants addiction

Inhalants affect brain cells by preventing them from receiving enough oxygen. This and various other factors can lead to psychological consequences, such as cognitive impairment. Other psychological effects include:

  • Altered perception of reality
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Mood disorders
  • Paranoia

How Relationships Are Affected by an Inhalant Addiction

You are not the only one affected by your addiction, as there is a noticeable social impact that influences the lives of everyone around you. As you become increasingly consumed by inhalant addiction, you’ll begin to isolate yourself from familial and social roles you once enjoyed and contributed to. This will make it increasingly difficult for you to function as an active member of society or even maintain relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

Some of the more prominent ways in which addiction destroys relationships include:

  • Causing division amongst family members
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Untrustworthy behaviour
  • Avoidance of once-enjoyed social activities
  • Alienation from social functions

Your drug habit will also lead to destructive outcomes concerning your financial obligations and your ability to be responsible for your actions. Unless professional help is sought, such behaviour will only worsen.

Confronting the Inhalant User

An intervention is an important first step in helping your loved one realise they need professional help with substance abuse. After intervention, the individual should be taken to a treatment centre for professional help as soon as possible.For an intervention to be successful, you need to keep in mind the following:

  • Stay calm, no matter what happens
  • Avoid being accusatory or sounding confrontational
  • Let the addict know how their addiction is hurting family and friends.
  • For best results, it’s better to confront a loved one about substance abuse during moments of sobriety
  • Don’t do it alone

Early intervention is always key to catching and stopping an addiction before it gets even worse.

Inhalant Treatment: Withdrawal and Next Steps

Once a person who has become dependant on a subject stops consuming the chemical, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within a short period of time. Said withdrawal symptoms can include excessive sweating, nausea, muscle cramps, chills, agitation,headaches, hallucinations – and in severe cases, convulsions.

The period of withdrawal isn’t something that should be taken lightly if you are truly committed to breaking free from addiction. Therefore, to safely see withdrawal through to the end, it’s best to seek professional help. You can choose between an inpatient and outpatient programme to help you with your addiction.

Inpatient programmes are usually required for people with severe cases of addiction or people who are more prone to triggers that can lead them to further substance abuse. At an inpatient rehab centre, your access to inhalants will be greatly controlled and this will help you avoid suffering a relapse.

Outpatient programmes allow you to undergo treatment at home, thus allowing you to attend to other aspects of your life whilst receiving medical and psychiatric help for your addiction.

Inpatient and outpatient programmes consist of various forms of therapy, which are all designed to help you overcome addiction, as well as provide the tools to help you avoid walking such a path again. Treatment plans for inhalation addiction may include individual and group therapy, skills training, support groups/12-step programmes, and substance abuse education.

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Types of Therapy

Halting an inhalant addiction in its early stages is the best way to save you or your loved one. This is because the more severe an addiction has become, the more strenuous its withdrawal period will be.In this case, it is advised that you seek medically-assisted treatment.

After detox, the next step is rehab, which can be paired with support group therapy to help you overcome behavioural and other disorders stemming from your period of substance abuse. Behavioural therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT) have proven to be very effective in helping people modify their attitudes toward inhalant abuse, as well as effectively cope with situations that might encourage drug use.

Other forms of effective therapy include:

  • 12-step programmes: This model will utilise the 12 steps of recovery already established by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to help you stay clean and sober through regular meetings.
  • Individual counselling: If you have received treatment at an outpatient or inpatient centre, you can benefit from the additional support provided by individual counselling from a qualified therapist. This will address issues concerning your addiction and help you get past them in a healthy manner.
  • Group therapy: This is a useful treatment option where you are supported and support others who are in the same situation as you. The group will be led by a qualified therapist, who’ll assist group members in working through life issues post-addiction.


What is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse is the recreational use of solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites (or poppers), with the aim of getting high. Abusing inhalants can be carried out bydeeply inhaling the fumes of the substance, which will then be absorbed into your bloodstream and can lead to feelings of sedation or euphoria. The short-term effects of abusing inhalants are quite similar to those of alcohol abuse.

What Are the Dangers of Inhalants Abuse?

Inhalant abuse is a very risky habit that can lead to a variety of health complications, for both first time users, as well as long time abusers. For instance, first time users may suffer a fatal reaction, which is referred to as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome(SSDS). Long-time abusers can develop a variety of ailments such as:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Limb spasms
  • Damage to the brain, liver and kidneys
  • Brain damage due to hypoxia or lack of oxygen
  • Hearing loss
  • Suffocation
  • Loss of consciousness

The abuse of inhalants can also lead to long-term psychological and behavioural disorders.

Can I recover from Inhalant Abuse?

In most cases, the effects of inhalant abuse can be reversed over time with the help of a medical professional and proper therapy. However, it’s important to get help as soon as possible, because the longer you continue to abuse inhalants, the more damage your body and mind will have suffered.

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