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Effects of Inhalant Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Treatment

What Are Inhalants?

There is a huge number of inhalants available for abuse, and they’re fairly easy to obtain. It’s unsurprising that teens in particular are susceptible to inhalant abuse, simply because these compounds can be acquired at any supermarket or store. So, what are inhalants?

  • Inhalants are compounds that can be breathed in without smoking or using heat to vaporize them.
  • They tend to be gases at room temperature or, if liquid or solid, emit an inhalable vapor.

This makes them different from nicotine and marijuana, which, in most cases, have to be combusted prior to use.

Types of Inhalants

spray paint canAs you may expect, the category of inhalants covers a variety of substances, but these drugs typically are classified as 1 of 4 types:

  • Volatile solvents or fuels.
  • Medical gases (e.g. nitrous oxide).
  • Aerosols.
  • Alkyl nitrites.

Solvents cover a wide range of compounds, from nail varnish remover (acetone or ethyl acetate) to methyl acetate in glue. They’re also present in many cleaning compounds. Aerosols are found in pressurized cans; they used to be CFCs, but now they’re the more environmentally friendly butane or propane.

Medical gases tend to be ethers and nitrous oxides, but nitrous oxide is also found in whipped cream as a propellant. These 3 all have effects on the central nervous system.

Alkyl nitrites are slightly different. They’re often sold as air fresheners in clubs, and they come in little vials that have to be popped, hence the term “poppers.” They relax smooth muscle directly when they’re in the bloodstream, creating a rush and dilating blood vessels. These are more popular with 20-somethings than teens.

Short-Term Effects of Inhalants

Most inhalants are short-acting CNS depressants, and the ones that aren’t closely mimic the effects of CNS depressants.

Generally, people experience mild highs that last for a short time—normally in the order of minutes—so inhalants tend to be taken repeatedly to extend the high.

Hallucinations may accompany large doses of certain inhalants—particularly medical gases like nitrous oxide (commonly found in whipped cream cans).

To help an inhalant addict, please call our 24/7 hotline free at for more information.

Video: What Is Huffing Freon?

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Side Effects of Inhalants

The side effects of inhalants are, again, what you’d expect from depressants:

  • Stumbling.
  • Vomiting.
  • Spasmodic reactions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Appearance of being high.
  • Unresponsiveness to stimuli.
  • Rashes around the mouth where the inhalant has blistered the skin.

Harmful Long-Term Effects of Inhalants

Like abuse of many drugs, inhalant abuse can result in death, and it doesn’t have to be long-term abuse that causes it.


Sudden sniffing death can occur even after just one use. Volatile compounds cross from the lungs into the bloodstream and can lead to:

These effects can manifest as sudden muscle weakness and/or spasticity, as well as signs of prolonged central nervous depression. Sensation in the hands and feet can diminish, and the drugs may possibly cause pins-and-needles sensations.

Inhalant Dependence

A few, but not all inhalants—like many abused substances—create measurable tolerance to their effects. Not surprisingly, some degree of dependency on all inhalants is seen. Some of the inhalants—tetracholoroethylene, or TCE, for example—produce severe excitatory withdrawal symptoms if you stop using the drug.

If you’ve tried to quit using inhalants but suffer with serious withdrawal symptoms, you likely are experiencing dependence. This means that you need to seek help as soon as you realize you cannot manage your life without inhalants.

Inhalant Withdrawal Treatment

Non-medicated inhalant withdrawal can, in some cases, lead to an unpleasant withdrawal syndrome. Because of the severe health consequences that may accumulate over the course of prolonged inhalant abuse, as well as the risk of excitatory withdrawal effects, a medically supervised withdrawal period can not only make the process much more comfortable, but safer. Medical supervision can help to monitor the effects and mitigate the unpleasant withdrawal effects.

Typically, inhalant addiction treatment is made up of 3 main stages:

  1. The first stage, detox, is the process of getting you off inhalants in a safe manner. Usually, you’ll be withdrawn from the inhalants immediately. You’ll likely notice symptoms of withdrawal within 8 to 24 hours, depending on how accustomed your body is to inhalants. You may be prescribed a mild sedative to make the process easier, although some centers insist on a natural withdrawal process.
  2. Counseling is the next stage of care. You’ll likely be asked about various aspects of your life, be encouraged to learn facts about inhalant abuse, and discover how inhalant abuse has affected your life. This process is about understanding why you took drugs and teaching you methods of avoiding inhalant abuse in the future.
  3. The final stage of treatment is keeping clean as you go about your day-to-day business. In some cases, referral to a sober living home is an option to help you adjust to life outside the clinic. In other cases, you’ll be encouraged to attend a 12-Step program or peer support group to help you stay clean.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. For helpful advice, information, or admisisons, or to learn more about treatment with AAC, please contact us free today at . A caring treatment support specialist will be able to advise you of programs that can help you take your life back from addiction.

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