Causes & Effects of Inhalants Addiction

Understanding Inhalant Addiction

Learn About Inhalant Addiction & Abuse

Inhalants are a broad group of chemicals that are most commonly abused by children and adolescents. These substances come in many different forms including paint, glue, aerosols, gasoline, cleaning fluids, markers, solvents, and other chemicals with different age groups tending to favor different types of inhalants. For instance, children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 most commonly abuse glue, paint, shoe polish, and fuels, while those who are ages 16 to 17 tend to lean towards the abuse of nitrous oxide or aerosols. As the name suggests, inhalants are consumed by inhaling through the mouth or nose, sometimes concentrated through a paper or plastic bag. The high created by inhalants tends to be short, though those who use inhalants can attempt to prolong their high by continuing to inhale their substance of choice. While the use of inhalants is typically not linked to withdrawal symptoms, inhalants can still be dangerous. In some cases, death from a single use (even in healthy individuals) can occur. Luckily, treatment options are available to help those who are battling inhalant abuse.


Inhalant Abuse Statistics

Data gathered from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition shows that roughly 0.4 percent of young individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 meet criteria for inhalant use disorder each year. This rate of abuse drops to 0.02 percent amongst all other Americans over the age of 18. Overall, about 10 percent of 17-year-olds report having used inhalants at one point in time or another.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Inhalant Abuse

There are many genetic and environmental risk factors for inhalant abuse, including:

Genetic: Specific elements of personality and temperament, including behavioral disinhibition, are strongly connected to genetics and can present a greater risk of inhalant abuse. Similarly, young people with family members who have substance use disorders are at a more increased risk for abusing inhalants than their peers whose family members do not suffer from substance use disorders.

Environmental: Inhalants are widely available and accessible, which makes these substances highly risky to be abused. Other environmental factors, including maltreatment or childhood trauma or abuse, are associated with an increased risk of inhalant use disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Homelessness
  • Involvement with gangs
  • Personal history of mental illness, such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Greater degree of behavioral disinhibition
  • History of family substance use disorder

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse

While inhalant abuse will manifest with varying signs and symptoms depending on the individual, below are some of the most common signs and symptoms that might signify that an individual is abusing inhalants:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using inhalants in situations where use could put one in harm’s way
  • Continuing to abuse inhalants despite the emergence of physical or psychological problems related to use
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from using inhalants
  • Giving up on, or failing to fulfill, obligations in one’s social, work, school, or home life
  • Using inhalants more often or in larger quantities than one initially intends
  • Difficulty reducing one’s use of inhalants

Physical symptoms:

  • Vision problems
  • Unconsciousness
  • Experiencing tolerance, which means a person needs increased amounts of an inhalant to become high
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Slowed movements
  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Tremor, shaking, or spasms
  • Dizziness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Having cravings, or strong desires to use inhalants
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Continuing to use inhalants despite experiencing relationship strain or other interpersonal problems
  • Pleasurable feelings

Lasting Effects

Effects of Inhalant Abuse

The abuse of inhalants can have a series of negative effects, including:

  • Injury sustained while high
  • Death even in otherwise healthy individuals, known as “sudden sniffing death”; death is also possible from choking on one’s vomit or suffocating
  • Lung damage
  • Damage to other organs
  • Digestive problems
  • Problems with breathing
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Possible loss of job or academic expulsion

Co-Occurring Disorders

Inhalant Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who have inhalant use disorder often battle with other co-occurring mental health problems, such as:

  • Antisocial personality disorder (in adulthood)
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Conduct disorder (in adolescence)

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Inhalant Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of inhalant overdose: When an individual consumes more of an inhalant than his or her body can metabolize, that individual will experience an overdose. Symptoms of inhalant overdose can be dangerous and even fatal, so any individual who has been abusing inhalants and starts experiencing the following symptoms should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Heart attack
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
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My son used inhalants regularly and I was really worried about him. I sent him to Serenity Knolls to help him recover from his addiction. The staff related to him and gave him the guidance he needed to quit his habit.

– Dirk L.