What is Inhalant Addiction?

What is Inhalant Addiction?

“Huffing,” “sniffing,” “bagging,” and “snorting” are all terms for inhalant abuse, the practice of purposefully breathing in – either through the nose or the mouth –  the chemical vapors or fumes produced by readily available household and industrial products. Because these items are legal, cheap and easy to find, inhalants are often abused by children and adolescents, and they may serve as a “gateway drug” for young users.

Due to their mind-altering effects and wide accessibility, inhalants carry a high risk of dependence, and habitual users may experience withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue use. Because the effects of inhalants are short-lived, inhalant addiction may go unnoticed by a person’s friends and family until there are severe medical consequences.

What is Inhalant Addiction?

Common Types of Inhalants

The most widely abused inhalants are common household items that pose no health risks when used for their intended purposes. Other inhalants, such as nitrous oxide, are used safely in clinical settings, but become dangerous when they are abused recreationally. There are hundreds of household, industrial and medical products that can be abused as inhalants, making exact classification difficult.

In general, however, there are four accepted categories of common inhalant drugs: 

  • Volatile solvents are liquid substances that vaporize at room temperature. They are present in a variety of common household and industrial products, including paint, paint thinner, correction fluid, nail polish, model glue, rubber cement, adhesives, felt-tip markers and gasoline. 
  • Aerosols are aerosol sprays that contain a solvent and a propellant. Aerosol inhalants include hairspray, spray paint, cooking oils, deodorant, fabric sprays, air dusters, and air fresheners.
  • Gases such as nitrous oxide, butane and propane are commonly inhaled from canisters or containers, like whipped cream dispensers (“whippits”), butane lighters and propane tanks.
  • Nitrites differ from other categories of inhalants, as they are used recreationally as vasodilators and muscle relaxants rather than mind-altering substances. Nitrites are most commonly abused in the form of “poppers,” an inhaled party drug that acts as a vasodilator.

How Are Inhalants Used?

Inhalants are commonly abused by inhaling directly from a product’s container or placing a solvent-soaked rag to the mouth or nose (huffing, sniffing or snorting). They may also be poured or sprayed into a bag and held to the mouth or nose (bagging). 

Gases like nitrous oxide are typically discharged from whipped cream dispensers into containers like balloons and inhaled directly from the balloon’s opening. Nitrites, like poppers, are often sold in small bottles as tape cleaner or room deodorizer and are commonly used in party or club settings.

Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse

The short-term physical and psychoactive effects of inhalants are similar to those of alcohol and other drugs. Users often experience a rapid high and may have feelings of relaxation, excitement, disinhibition and euphoria immediately after inhalation. In addition to the initial high, users may experience agitation, drowsiness, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and impaired judgment, as well as nausea, muscle weakness, and headache. 

Prolonged abuse of inhalants poses a serious risk of devastating long-term health effects, including permanent damage to the liver and kidneys, permanent brain damage, cognitive impairment and dementia. 

Even a single instance of inhalant use can be deadly. Overdose, asphyxiation, and Sudden Sniffing Syndrome can occur in both first-time users and habitual users.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Because the immediate effects of inhalants last only a few minutes, it can be difficult to know when a loved one is abusing them recreationally. 

Common physical symptoms of inhalant abuse include: 

  • Red eyes
  • Spots or sores around the mouth or nose
  • Chemical odors in the mouth
  • Paint or oil stains on the skin or clothing

Common neurological and cognitive symptoms of inhalant abuse include:

  • Memory loss
  • Prolonged slurred speech
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of coordination
  • Cognitive impairment, including dementia

Treatment for Inhalant Addiction

Any level of abuse or dependence on inhalant drugs can be deadly. Habitual use can lead to addiction, creating an even greater risk of severe long-term side effects and death. 

Inhalant withdrawal is also dangerous, with symptoms ranging from anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and irritability to risk of relapse. Inhalant abuse may also lead to continued substance abuse in adulthood, including alcohol dependence or other substance use disorders.

Silver Pines Treatment Center in Hazleton, PA provides specialized therapy and detox services to help individuals suffering from inhalant addiction or withdrawal symptoms.

Treatments include: 

If you suffer from addiction, call Silver Pines Treatment Center now at 855.734.4658. You can live a better life without inhalant addiction, so call now.


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