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How to Help an Inhalant Addict

What Is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse can be defined as the intentional inhalation of vapors through sniffing or huffing from chemical products to become intoxicated, or achieve a high. These chemical products are commonly found in everyday household products. Often, the dangers of inhaling these products are ignored or minimized due to their common, everyday use.

Some examples of inhalants potentially misused for their “high” are:

Inhalant abuse, in the past, had not been studied as thoroughly as illicit drug, alcohol, or nicotine abuse. Due to a recent increase in sniffing or huffing, there is now a greater amount of research on the epidemiology of inhalant misuse, its treatment, and prevention measures to address the issue. A 2007 study by the Department of Education in Virginia revealed that preventative measures and awareness should be taught as early as kindergarten due to the accessibility and ease of purchase of these often common household products.

How Are Inhalants Consumed?

Inhalants can be directly inhaled through the nose, often through an open container, or they can be soaked into a towel and “huffed” through the mouth or nose. As users progress in their addictions, they may place the container or rag into a bag, allowing the gases to become more concentrated before inhaling. Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) is commonly inhaled using a balloon filled with the gas.

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Many of the volatile chemicals abused as inhalants produce a fast-onset, fleeting high that lasts a few seconds to minutes. As an additional danger, when passing through the nose or mouth, inhalants can severely inhibit oxygen flow to the brain. These dangerous moments of oxygen deprivation serve to compound the potential mind-altering effects of inhalants, but they can impart serious anoxic brain injury or death on the unsuspecting huffer. In fact, inhalant abuse can lead to an array of damaging short- and long-term effects.

The high only lasts a short period of time, so users will often inhale repeatedly to achieve the same results. Initial effects include dizziness, loss of inhibitions, and misperception of time, which may be followed by nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, and loss of coordination.

Users become attracted to the immediacy of intoxication and ease of access of these drugs.

Am I Addicted to Inhalants?

Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to inhalants is not very common. However, addiction can and does occur in heavy users. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists criteria for an inhalant use disorder, which includes (but is not limited to):

  • Taking inhalants in bigger amounts or for longer than you originally intended.
  • Wanting to stop using but finding yourself unable to do so.
  • Spending excessive amounts of time getting or using inhalants.
  • Neglecting responsibilities in favor of using.
  • Giving up once-enjoyed habits or activities to obtain or use inhalants.
  • Needing more and more to get the same effects (tolerance).

If you’re finding that some or all of the above apply to you, you may be addicted to inhalants. An addiction treatment program could help with your issue.

Approaching an Inhalant-Addicted Loved One

If your loved one is facing an addiction to inhalants, they are not alone. In 2013, nearly 500,000 people aged 12 and older were current inhalant users. Among young people, inhalant abuse is the fourth most commonly abused drug after marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco.

If you suspect that your loved one is addicted to inhaling household substances, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Inhaling these chemicals can cause a state of intoxication that is similar to drunkenness. A lack of oxygen in the brain may lead to sudden sniffing death syndrome, hallucinations, behavior changes, irregular heartbeat, trauma, and injury.

Regular use of inhalants can cause serious health problems, including:

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Early intervention is key, and if you suspect a loved one is using inhalants, taking immediate action is essential. You can try staging an intervention or employing the help of Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), which helps those who love an addict talk to them effectively about getting into treatment. Please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at to discover how treatment programs can help and find a program that suits your needs.

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms

The first step in inhalant treatment is detoxification (detox). During the detox period, the body will flush out any chemicals left from the inhalants. Depending on the extent of a person’s use, they may experience various withdrawal symptoms during this period, which include:

  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Vivid dreams.
  • Gaining weight.
  • Tremors.
  • Irritability.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea.
  • Cravings.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

Inhalant Addiction Treatment Types

If you believe you or someone you care about has a problem with inhalants, it’s important to seek treatment as early as possible. Users can choose between inpatient and outpatient programs. Inpatient, or residential programs are often recommended for people who face triggers to abuse drugs at home. Given that many inhalants are household products, individuals abusing these substances may wish to consider seeking treatment at inpatient rehab centers, where access to inhalants can be controlled.

Outpatient programs offer many of the same benefits as inpatient care, but with the added benefit of flexibility. Recovering users can live at home and attend to obligations like work and childcare.

During the course of treatment, inpatient and outpatient programs may offer various forms of therapy and counseling to help addicted individuals recover and learn healthy ways to live without drugs. Treatment plans for inhalation addiction might include the following:

Treatment will focus on identifying triggers for inhalant use and teaching the skills needed to cope with these triggers, prevent relapse, and live a healthy life of sobriety.

Find Inhalant Treatment Programs

Professional treatment can start anyone battling inhalant addiction on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. If you or someone you know has a problem with inhalant abuse and wants to stop, our 24-hour hotline can help you find a rehab clinic near you. Please call us free today at . Our treatment advisors will be happy to help you learn about your options.

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