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Inhalant Misuse and Addiction

Inhalants are a diverse group of substances capable of producing gases, vapors, or fumes that can have mind-altering effects when inhaled through the mouth or nose.1 Inhalant substances can be found in many household and commercial products, making them widely available and easy to access.2

In 2021, 2.2 million people aged 12 and older reported misusing inhalants within the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).3 Although the purchase and possession of many inhalant substances are legal, there can be life-threatening consequences when they are used in a way other than intended.4

Knowing the dangers of inhalants is important. This page will help you learn more about inhalant use, including:

  • Types of inhalants.
  • How inhalants are misused and who misuses them.
  • Signs of inhalant intoxication, misuse, and addiction.
  • Dangers of inhalant misuse.
  • How to get help.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants include a range of substances that produce mind-altering effects and can lead to potential dangers when inhaled.1 Although other substances can be inhaled, those referred to as “inhalants” are almost always inhaled rather than ingested via another route.1

Inhalants can generally be classified into 4 broad categories:1

  1. Volatile solvents. These are often found in common household and office products and include things like felt-tip markers, gasoline, glue, lighter fluid, and paint thinner.
  2. Aerosol sprays. These contain propellants and solvents and include things like deodorant, hair spray, fabric protector, and spray paint.
  3. Gases. These are often found in household and commercial products or used for medical anesthetics. This includes things like butane lighters, chloroform, propane, and nitrous oxide (e.g., the propellant found in whipped cream or automotive nitro canisters).
  4. Nitrites. Nitrite substances, including amyl and butyl nitrite, are prohibited for consumer use by the Consumer Product Safety Commission but may still be found sold in small bottles labeled as “leather cleaner,” “liquid aroma,” “room odorizer,” or “video head cleaner.”

Once inhaled, many inhalants produce their effects by depressing certain types of central nervous system (CNS) activity.5 Somewhat unique amongst the other inhalant types, nitrites differ from solvents, aerosols, and gases in that they dilate blood vessels and relax muscles rather than acting centrally on the nervous system.1

Many of the short-term effects of inhalant use are similar to alcohol intoxication and may include feelings of excitation, followed by disinhibition, drowsiness, lightheadedness, lack of coordination,  and slurred speech.5, 6 Large quantities of inhalants can lead to a loss of sensation, confusion, and unconsciousness.6

How Are Inhalants Misused?

When misusing inhalants, people breathe in the inhalant’s fumes via the mouth or nose.5 Common methods of inhalant use include:7

  • Sniffing or snorting the inhalant from the container.
  • Spraying aerosols into the mouth or nose.
  • “Bagging,” which involves inhaling or sniffing substances sprayed inside a paper or plastic bag.
  • “Huffing,” which involves inhaling substances from a rag that has been soaked in the inhalant.
  • Inhaling nitrous oxide-filled balloons.

Who Misuses Inhalants?

Inhalant use is most prevalent among younger adolescents.2 According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), of the 2.2 million people aged 12 and older who used inhalants in 2021, use was highest among adolescents aged 12 to 17 years (2.4%, 626,000 people).3

Another national survey by Monitoring the Future found that 3.6% of 8th graders, 2.4% of 10th graders, and 1.8% of 12th graders reported past-year inhalant use in 2022.2 By 8th grade, approximately 1 in 5 children and adolescents report having used inhalants.8 The higher rates among younger people may result from the availability of relatively cheap, legal to-purchase inhalant products. 2

Signs of Inhalant Intoxication and Misuse

It’s important to know the signs of inhalant intoxication as this can help with early identification of inhalant addiction before it progresses to repeated misuse and a potential inhalant use disorder. Signs of inhalant intoxication can appear during or shortly after inhalant abuse and include:9

  • Substantial behavioral changes (e.g., aggression, hostility, impaired judgment).
  • Euphoria.
  • Dizziness.
  • Reduced body movement and reflexes.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Tremor.
  • Involuntary eye movements.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Lethargy.
  • Stupor.
  • Unconsciousness.

In addition to signs of inhalant intoxication, other signs may indicate someone is misusing inhalants, such as:10, 11

  • Inattention.
  • Irritability.
  • Depression.
  • Nausea or decreased appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Inhalant paraphernalia (e.g., hidden spray paint or other inhalant substance canisters, rags, or clothing soaked with chemicals).
  • Chemical odors on the breath.
  • Paint or other stains on the body or clothes.

Signs of an Inhalant Use Disorder

Inhalant use disorder, a type of substance use disorder, is diagnosed by medical professionals using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).9 When someone has an inhalant use disorder, they will continue to misuse inhalants despite experiencing negative health, occupational, or social consequences.9

The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for inhalant use disorder include:9

  • Using an inhalant in larger quantities or for a longer duration than intended.
  • A desire or ineffective attempt(s) to reduce or stop using the inhalant.
  • Spending significant time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of the inhalant.
  • Having strong cravings or urges to use the inhalant.
  • Problems at home, school, or work resulting from repeated inhalant use.
  • Recurrent use of the inhalant even though it leads to or worsens interpersonal or social problems.
  • Stopping or decreasing involvement in important leisure, social, or work activities because of inhalant use.
  • Recurring inhalant use in physically dangerous situations, such as driving a vehicle.
  • Continued inhalant use even with the knowledge that the inhalant is likely causing or worsening a physical or psychological problem.
  • Tolerance, defined as either requiring larger amounts of the inhalant to reach intoxication or a significantly lessened effect with continued inhalant use at the same amount.

Dangers of Inhalant Misuse and Addiction

Several adverse effects can result from inhalant misuse. Because the euphoric feeling (“high”) from inhalants is brief, people who use inhalants may repeatedly inhale to maintain the high, increasing the potential for overdose.5 An inhalant overdose can lead to seizures or coma.5 Inhalants can also cause the heart to stop. Known as “sudden sniffing death,” this can occur in healthy people, even the first time they use inhalants.5

Other dangers of inhalant misuse include:4

  • Asphyxiation, resulting from recurrent inhalation of fumes that displace oxygen and interfere with normal gas exchange in the lungs.
  • Suffocation, which occurs when fumes are inhaled from a bag positioned over the head and air is prevented from moving to the lungs.
  • Choking, due to inhaling vomit after inhalant misuse, often in a setting of markedly decreased levels of consciousness or altered mental status.
  • Convulsions or seizures, which can occur from abnormal electrical brain discharges.

In addition to the dangers above, inhalant use can increase the risk of fatal injury due to accidents that occur while high. People are also at an increased risk of experiencing various types of cumulative neurological damage and other adverse long-term health effects including:5

  • Hearing loss.
  • Peripheral nerve damage-related loss of coordination and limb spasticity.
  • Bone marrow damage or suppressed production of all blood cell lines.
  • Kidney and liver damage.
  • Anoxic brain injury.
  • Delayed behavioral development.

Though there is no specific withdrawal syndrome associated across the range of different stimulant types, symptoms that resemble those associated with sedative withdrawal have been reported, including anxiety, insomnia, irritability, muscle cramps, tremors, and seizures.11 Some people who quit using inhalants after repeated use may experience additional withdrawal symptoms such as mood changes, nausea, and sweating.5 Although somewhat uncommon, the repeated use of inhalants can lead to the development of an inhalant use disorder.5

Inhalant Addiction Treatment

Inhalant addiction treatment can occur in different settings and at different levels, including:12

  • Inpatient or residential rehab, where patients live at a treatment facility and receive 24/7 care, monitoring, and support.
  • Outpatient rehab, where patients receive many of the benefits of inpatient rehab but live at home and in a type of sober living facility and attend treatment during the week.

The right treatment depends on several factors such as what substances a patient has been using and for how long, whether they have been using other substances, and whether they have a co-occurring disorder (e.g., anxiety, depression).13 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that effective treatment is tailored to the individual and considers not only their substance use, but any medical, psychological, social, legal, and vocational issues they have.13

While not always necessary, detox can be an important step in recovery. Because there are several potential complications of inhalant intoxication and misuse, patients may benefit from the care, monitoring, and support provided in detox settings.11 Detox removes patients from being able to access inhalants, which can keep them safe and facilitate the transition to ongoing treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab.11

There are no FDA-approved medications to treat inhalant addiction, so treatment may focus on behavioral therapies.5 Examples of behavioral therapies found to help treat inhalant addiction include:5

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, a behavioral therapy that helps patients identify situations that may increase substance use and develop skills to cope with those situations.
  • Motivational incentives, an approach that uses incentives (e.g., coupons or reward points) to reinforce positive behaviors, such as not using substances.

Inhalant misuse is often associated with mental health symptoms, other substance use, and past suicide attempts, so a patient may receive treatment that addresses multiple conditions at the same time.12, 14

If you’re struggling with inhalant misuse or addiction, or you know someone who is, please contact American Addiction Centers at to learn more about addiction treatment options.

You can also look at some of the facilities listed below to see if they provide the program you are looking for:

Does Insurance Cover Inhalant Addiction Rehabs?

For those who have insurance, using health insurance to pay for rehab should cover at least some of the cost of inhalant addiction treatment. Depending on your individual insurance plan, treatment at a specific facility may or may not be covered. It’s important that you know what is covered prior to attending a rehab. Use the free online insurance coverage checker tool below to find out if your health insurance provides coverage for addiction rehab and other rehabilitation treatment plans for substance abuse recovery.

Coverage may vary depending on your needs and insurance plan. To find out if your policy covers spiritual or faith-based rehab, click here, or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential. You can also click here to find a rehab near me.

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