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Inhalant Addiction

Although inhalant addiction is a less common form of the disease, it still does exist throughout the United States and beyond. These poisonous gases are designed for industrial work and can lead to severe physical and mental health problems. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a staggering 9.8 percent of adults ages 18-25 make up the most frequent users of inhalants. Other studies have highlighted 10-grade children (6.1 percent) will experiment with the gases as well. In addition, when students reach the eighth grade, 1 in 5 of their classmates have already experimented with inhalants.

Inhalants come in various forms, such as aerosols, gases, solvents, and nitrates. As far as we can see in our human history, inhalant abuse has been prevalent, which dates back to Babylonian times. During Prohibition in the United States, ether was a common intoxicant that individuals used to satisfy their alcohol cravings. It wasn’t until later, however, that inhalants made their stain on society.

While inhalants are not recognized as primary sources of addiction, the drug still causes problems in our communities for children and young adults. Inhalants can be commonly used household items that are used to achieve an intoxicated state. Use in the general population is technically low, but due to the availability of the drugs at local stores, it makes them even more dangerous. There have been various studies that show children in homeless populations around the globe are the most susceptible to using inhalants.

The most common inhalant is amyl nitrite and fluorinated hydrocarbons, which are better known as “poppers” or “whippets.” The drugs can be easily purchased at tobacco stores or gas stations. They are commonly marketed to the public as whipped cream chargers. It highlights how easily anyone can obtain these, and we must focus more on regulating these products and keep them out of our children’s hands.

What Are Inhalants and How Are They Misused?

When we utter the word “inhalant,” it can have various meanings. In the case of inhalant addiction, we are talking about inhaling a solvent or other material that produces vapors that someone inhales for a buzz. They are found in many household products that serve a legitimate purpose, but unfortunately can still be abused. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition highlights that children have found that these popular products are not only inexpensive to buy, but also easy to hide. Glue and paint are the most accessible products to use, but thousands of other household chemicals possess the same problems.

Inhalants produce intense mind-altering effects that cause terrible side effects. Some of these include apathy, belligerence, impaired functions, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It creates a very intense high, which causes walking to become weakened and even dangerous.

There are many ways inhalants affect the human body, but the leading cause of death comes from trauma immediately after it has been consumed. Reports show that the ice-cold gases freeze your lungs, but the leading cause of death results from falls due to the user losing consciousness. Other common ways inhalants cause death include Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome and seizures.

Inhalants work similarly to other illicit drugs in that they activate dopamine receptors. The one difference between inhalants and other drugs, however, is that inhaling the substance one time can be fatal. Brain damage has also been linked to long-term use, and someone can reduce damage to their body by immediately seeking help.

What Are the Effects of Inhalant Abuse?

As we discussed earlier in the article, what stands out to teens and young adults about inhalants is how easily it can be hidden. Identifying an addiction to inhalants is not always easy, but as the addiction progresses, more signs will be identifiable. These can develop in a few ways, which include:

  • Lack of coordination, irritability, depression, inattentiveness
  • A loss of appetite accompanied by vomiting
  • Slurred speech similar to alcohol intoxication
  • Hidden spray paint or solvent containers
  • Chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Appearing to be drunk or stumbling
  • Paint stains visible on clothes, the face, or hands
  • Chemical odors emanating from the user’s breath or clothing

As the addiction progresses, using the drug will become more important in a person’s life. The signs will become easier to spot, and while inhalants can be hidden easier than other drugs, there are long-term consequences that involve:

  • Increasing anger
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Delinquency
  • Antisocial tendencies
  • School truancy

As with any disease, early detection is the key to saving a life. If you or anyone you know is exhibiting any of the symptoms above, you must talk to a medical professional about your options.

The Inhalant Rehab Process

Addiction is a disease with no cure, but treating the issue allows a person to regain control of their lives after substance abuse. Treatment will establish tools and guidelines that will enable the person to manage triggers in their daily lives.

Most treatment centers will not specialize in inhalant abuse, but there are a select few equipped to handle the complex issues that come with inhalant addiction. Users are often given a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency that includes mental illness.

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Before entering a treatment facility, the person must go through a thorough exam to discuss any potential complications to their body. It may include central nervous system damage, lead poisoning, kidney and liver irregularity, nutritional problems, and heart and lung distress. 

Once the evaluation is complete, the individual will learn how the chemicals are stored within fatty tissues of our body, which causes residual effects for extended periods. A person going through inhalant treatment must be placed in a residential treatment facility to manage their symptoms.

Once the former user is committed, they will work directly with a counselor to initiate a treatment plan. It will involve support groups and other additional therapies geared toward maintaining long-term sobriety.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Inhalants. from

National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. (n.d.). About Inhalants. from

(n.d.). NAMI. from

Dhawan, A., Chopra, A., Ambekar, A., & Ray, R. (2015). Treatment Seeking Behavior of Inhalant Using Street Children: Are We Prepared to Meet Their Treatment Needs. from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse? from

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