Are Inhalants Addictive?

An inhalants addiction can take many forms, so it’s important to know what to look out for if you think you or a loved one is affected.

Understanding Inhalants

When most people think of addiction, they imagine alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and more. However, inhalants like laughing gas, paint thinners, and lighter fluid can also be very addictive. Furthermore, these compounds are readily accessible by teenagers and young adults, making them even more dangerous.

This article will break down inhalant addiction including what the signs and symptoms of this addiction are, and what you can do if you or a loved one have experienced these.

Inhalants Addiction

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What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are oftentimes dangerous and addictive substances inhaled through the mouth. Compounds within the inhalants are then absorbed by the lungs, where they enter the bloodstream and cause psychoactive or physical effects.
Many inhalants are used by teenagers due to easy access to chemicals like ether and chloroform. Unfortunately, many inhalants can be very addictive, either physically or psychologically, due to the “high” effects produced on the body.

Inhalants alter one’s mind state in a similar way to drugs and alcohol. The exact effects of inhalants can differ depending on each inhalant’s chemical composition and strength. According to some studies, as many as twenty-three million Americans have experimented with inhalants at some point in their life. Many of these tried inhalants as teenagers or young adults. 1

Common Types of Inhalants

Inhalants come in four primary types:
  • Solvents, which include lighter fluid, nail polish, paint thinners, and liquid substances
  • Aerosols, which include cleaning products, spray paint, deodorant spray, and vegetable oil spray
  • Gasses, which include propane, laughing gas, chloroform, Freon, and more
  • Nitrites, which include air fresheners, liquid fragrances, and cleaners for leather surfaces
Each of these inhalant types can be dangerous and potentially addictive, especially to the developing brains of young adults or teenagers. Depending on chemical composition, inhalants can cause effects such as altered mental states, induced and uncontrollable laughing, and relaxation of the mind or muscles.

Why Are Inhalants Addictive?

At their core, inhalants are addictive because they rewire the brain and cause reward centers rapidly. Teenagers and young adults are especially vulnerable to this type of addiction because their brains are still developing. Additionally, their brains are more susceptible to chemical rewards such as dopamine, since their brains discover many new sensations in these years. 2

Gasses Used as Medical Anesthesia

Some individuals develop an inhalants addiction due to inhalants being frequently used for medical anesthesia. These gasses include:
  • Ether, which can be highly addictive. Once inhaled, it acts very quickly and may cause symptoms like hallucinations or euphoria. Ether addiction is also very dangerous for teenagers because it is readily available at chemistry labs in high schools and colleges.
  • Chloroform, which also causes addictive symptoms when inhaled regularly. Many young adults’ first exposure to chloroform occurs at dental offices or medical clinics, when they inhale the gas for anesthesia.
  • Nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is used in dental offices and for other medical procedures, as well as in cans of whipping cream. Thus, it is very readily available to young adults or teenagers and can be addictive when inhaled regularly as well.
Ultimately, the easy access to inhalants drives addiction across America. If you’re a parent, it’s important to know the signs of inhalant addiction so you can get your child treatment quickly if needed.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Addiction

It can be tough to notice the signs of inhalant abuse or addiction because most inhalant effects are short-term. On top of that, there are many different types of inhalants available, so it can be difficult to tell which inhalant is being abused.
For example, you may not notice whether a can of whipped cream is being consumed properly or being abused. It’s also hard to tell if you simply lost a can of paint thinner or it was taken. Regardless, you can check for the following symptoms if you or a loved one are potentially suffering from an inhalant addiction.
  • Sores in or around the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • A runny nose
  • Unusual breath smell
  • The behavior or appearance of alcohol intoxication
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Red eyes
  • Stains from oil or gas on the face or clothes 3

Side Effects and Dangers of Inhalant Addiction

Unfortunately, addiction to inhalants can lead to the rapid onset of negative side effects and serious dangers. It is important to know what to expect in the case of inhalant use. These side effects include:
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness or shaking
  • Blurred vision and disorientation
  • Suffocation
  • Coma

Worsening Symptoms

If substance abuse is continued, symptoms may get even worse and some of the more severe symptoms, like comas, could appear. Furthermore, individuals who use inhalants under the age of twenty-five are at a greater risk for long-term or permanent side effects. This is because their brains are not fully developed, so drug use or addiction to inhalants can permanently prevent full brain maturity or neurological development.

Other negative permanent effects of inhalants can occur to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and other organs. These can also worsen over time and become medical problems that a person may have to deal with for the rest of their life.

Inhalant Addiction Withdrawal

Once one’s body has become used to inhalants, ceasing their use may result in intense withdrawal symptoms, especially if inhalant addiction has continued on for some time, or if inhalants were used in large quantities over a long period of time as well. Inhalant addiction withdrawal symptoms include:
  • Restlessness or insomnia
  • Cravings
  • Muscle tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mood swings or changes in behavior
  • Irritability, agitation, and bursts of anger
  • Depression
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty concentrating

How Long Can Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Depending on the individual and the types of inhalants abused, inhalant withdrawal symptoms may last for up to two years. However, the worst withdrawal symptoms should subside approximately one week after discontinuing drug use. Withdrawal symptoms can be scary and life-threatening to go through alone, especially for inhalant users that are relatively young, so undergoing withdrawal is recommended to be done at a medical treatment center, or under the supervision of a loved one.

Treatment for Inhalant Addiction

Inhalants Addiction Treatment

When it comes to treating inhalant addiction, those who struggle should seek out the help of licensed clinics and treatment facilities like Concise Recovery. A comprehensive inhalant addiction treatment program will include:

  • The detox sequence, during which time the individual is given the support necessary to weather the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.
  • A therapy sequence. During this phase, the patient is helped by a professional therapist and is then taught self-care strategies for further support.
  • Group support, during which the patient’s loved ones and friends help them by professing their support and helping them build healthy lifestyle habits. This can also include a group therapy setting, where other inhalant abuse users can support and help each other.
  • Aftercare. After addiction treatment has “concluded,” it’s still important for the patient to maintain healthy habits and lifestyle routines in order to avoid a relapse.

Learn More with Concise Recovery

It’s never too late to get the help you need and deserve, or to find help for your loved one in the grip of inhalant addiction. Don’t hesitate to contact Concise Recovery today. We offer a wealth of information and can provide you with the resources you need to get started on the path to recovery.