Inhalant Abuse Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What are Inhalants?

Inhalants describe any type of substance, including aerosols, solvents, gases, and nitrates, that are primarily taken by volatilization, or by inhalation, and not through any other route of administration. While other drugs, such as heroin or marijuana can be abused through inhalation, inhalants are drugs whose vapors are only taken through the nose and trachea and not through any other method. This can lead to severe inhalant abuse and addiction. Several products consist of volatile substances that have psychoactive characteristics when inhaled. Inhalants can be obtained easily because many are products found in the workplace or home environments, such as cleaning fluids, spray paints, glues, markers, and paint thinners. While these products are not intended for the purpose of drug abuse, many individuals utilize inhalants in this way. When a person is addicted to inhalants, fumes or vapors are taken in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways, otherwise known as “huffing”. Inhalant addicts may place a chemically-soaked rag in their mouth, snort or sniff fumes from a dispenser or container, inhale fumes from a plastic or paper bag, or directly spray aerosols into their mouth or nose.

When used for recreational purposes, addicts consume inhalants for the purpose of achieving a high, though the duration is relatively short. Inhalants function in the body by depressing the central nervous system, inducing effects similar to alcohol such as lack of coordination, dizziness, or slurred speech. An addiction to inhalants can be formed with continued abuse. If you or a loved one has been struggling with an addiction to inhalants, it is important to seek professional help. The effects of an inhalant addiction could be devastating on your health, emotional well being and social life, and having the appropriate help can break the vicious cycle of addiction.

Inhalant Abuse and Statistics

Inhalants can be abused at any age group across the lifespan. However, literature has shown that people tend to abuse different inhalant products at different ages. These statistics can be helpful in understanding the risks involved with inhalant addiction:

  • New users of inhalants between the ages of 12-15 commonly abuse products such as glue, lighter fluid, spray paints, shoe polish, and gasoline. In the late adolescent age group (ages 16-17), the inhalants most frequently abused are nitrous oxide or “whippets”. Adults have a higher incidence of abusing nitrates, or “poppers” [1].
  • Inhalants are more likely to be abused by young children and adolescents and are the only class of substances abused more by younger children than by older teens [1]
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in five American teens have used Inhalants to get high [2].
  • Suffocation, inhaling fluid or vomit into the lungs, and accidents each cause about 15% of deaths linked to inhalant abuse [2].
  • 55% of deaths linked to inhalant abuse are caused by “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.” SSDS can occur on the first use or any use due to the heart beating rapidly and erratically, resulting in cardiac arrest [2].

Causes of Inhalant Addiction

Because inhalants are found in common house ware products, they are easily accessible. Teenagers who abuse inhalants, may perceive inhalants to be a harmless way of “getting high”, especially because they are easy to obtain and generally inexpensive. Individuals who repetitively abuse inhalants over a long duration of time may report a continued need to use inhalants. An addiction to inhalants can be formed when the abuser feels a continued need to take in volatile substances, needing more exposure to achieve the “high” desired. An inhalant addiction stems from multiple causes that influence its progression, such as biological, psychological, and social factors. For example, a man or woman may be genetically predisposed to drug use or have a family history of substance abusers. This would put them at increased risk of developing an addition to inhalants. Psychological factors for developing an inhalant addiction would be unresolved traumas or tragedies that make an individual more vulnerable to substance abuse as a means of coping. Social causes that may influence an inhalant addiction would be peer pressure or environmental conditions in which a person is frequently exposed to the drug. Many of these factors are interconnected, and there may be multiple reasons why an addiction to an inhalant has developed. Seeking professional help will ensure that these causes are identified and that underlying issues are addressed in order to heal from the addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse and Addiction

There are signs and symptoms that will be evident if you or a loved one is suffering with an inhalants addiction. Inhalants effects can range in severity and can impact a man or woman physically, psychologically, and socially. Review the following signs and symptoms to learn more about these signs and symptoms that result from abusing inhalants:

  • Suffocation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Intoxication
  • Hearing Loss
  • Vision damage
  • Blackouts
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Injury to the mouth, throat, and lungs
  • Limb spasms
  • Damage to the brain, liver, and kidneys

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of an inhalant addiction, it is recommended that you contact your doctor immediately.

Inhalants Effects

Short and long term hazards will develop as a result of an addiction to inhalants. While the physical effects may be the most evident, having an addiction to inhalants will reap negative consequences in your life in multiple ways:


The recreational use of inhalants can damage vital organs and systems of the body that can damage your health. Inhalants directly impact brain cells by preventing them from receiving sufficient oxygen. If some cases, death may result from Sudden Sniffing Death or suffocation. Other physical effects are as follows:

  • Brain damage due to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen
  • Spasms in hands and feet
  • Hearing loss
  • Suffocation
  • Loss of consciousness


The abuse of inhalants can lead to psychological disturbances, such as loss of consciousness and cognitive impairment. In addition, individuals addicted to inhalants may experience increased anxiety or depression as a result of abusing these substances. Psychological effects that may be experienced include the following:

  • Mood disorders
  • Personality
  • Altered perception of reality
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion

Social Impact:

As a person is increasingly consumed by their abusive drug behaviors, they will isolate themselves from social and familial roles they once enjoyed. As a result, it will become more difficult to maintain the relationships and family units around them. Social effects from inhalant abuse include:

  • Division within a family unit
  • Unwillingness to participate in activities once enjoyed
  • Alienation from social functions
  • Isolation from loved ones

These hazardous effects do not end here. Individuals addicted to inhalants will continue to bring about other destructive outcomes to the various aspects of their lives, including financial responsibilities, social life, and familial relationships. Men and women who abuse inhalants will continue to experience these consequences until professional help is sought and appropriate treatment is received.

Inhalants Withdrawal

While physical addiction is possible with inhalant abuse, psychological dependence is more common. A person who has been recklessly abusing inhalants may suffer from psychological withdrawal issues, such as hallucinations or delusions. Physical withdrawal symptoms, though not as common, may result anywhere between 6-36 hours after usage and can include the following:

  • Hand tremors
  • Agitation
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting

Because of the complications that may result when withdrawing from inhalants, both physical and psychological, it is imperative to be under the guidance and supervision of medical professional when at all possible. If you are concerned that you may experience withdrawal symptoms from inhalants, contact your primary physician to discuss these signs.

Inhalants Treatment and Help

If you or a loved one has been struggling with an addiction to inhalants, you can take hope in knowing that recovery is a possibility for you. Learning how to undo years of damage is not an easy process, but in choosing the road to recovery, you are seeking a life of freedom and peace. Abusing inhalants can mean putting your life at risk with unwarranted consequences. Can you imagine the endless possibilities for your life without the need for inhalants? Allow yourself to find hope in the future as you work through your recovery from inhalants with a quality addiction rehab center. There is nothing more valuable than your life, wellness, and peace and you are deserving of the freedom that is experienced apart from dependence on a drug. You will ultimately have the ability to overcome this addiction by receiving the help you need.

Articles About Inhalants

  • Inhalant abuse is familiar to approximately 13 percent of eighth graders, according to NIDA’s annual Michigan Survey. And over 68 percent of new inhalant users will be under the age of 18 (1). The youngest new users will probably gravitate towards sniffing something like nail polish and they will possibly graduate to nitrous inhalants such as whipped cream dispenser cans.


[1]: National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug Facts: Inhalants”. Accessed 25 February 2013.

[2]: United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant. “Inhalant Statistics”. Accessed 10 March 2013.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on, Resource For Addiction & Abuses