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Inhalant Symptoms and Warning Signs

Abusing inhalants is dangerous. The short-term and long-term health effects can be devastating or even deadly.

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Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse can be hard to detect because its effects are so short-lived.

Many people don’t realize there are substances virtually everywhere that can be abused, from paint thinner to keyboard air duster. There is also a smaller chance of being caught while intoxicated because the effects of inhalants are so brief. The ease of hiding inhalant abuse is a likely reason why these substances are commonly abused by teenagers.

Some common signs of inhalant abuse include:

  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Unusual smelling breath
  • Paint or stains on clothing or face
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drunk appearance
  • Anxiety
  • Sores around mouth

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Are Inhalants Addictive?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), all inhalants have a potential for dependence. While relatively uncommon, people can develop an addiction to inhalants.

Inhalants, like other addictive substances, have a strong effect on the brain reward system.

Repeated abuse of inhalants can rewire the brain for addiction. Most cases of abuse occur in the teenage demographic and is usually discontinued as users get older; in some cases, teens who abused inhalants may go on to experiment with other, more dangerous drugs. This is due to inhalants being very dangerous, causing long-term permanent effects, with high potential of abuse or falling an injuring oneself, especially in a black out. Inhalants are just as, if not more, dangerous as many other drugs, they are just less commonly talked about. A teen with a history of inhalant abuse may be struggling with an underlying disorder that could be effectively addressed through treatment and rehab.

The Dangers of Inhalants

The short-lived effects of inhalants may lead people to incorrectly assume that these substances aren’t that dangerous. Many individuals also feel inhalants aren’t that dangerous because they are not prescribed and are found around the house. However, inhalants are actually just as dangerous as many hard drugs, and in many cases more dangerous. Inhalants can cause heart failure and respiratory distress, leading to a fatal overdose even with the first use.

Serious physiological side effects generally require heavy, long-term abuse. For example, chronic abuse of the paint-dissolving chemical toluene may produce neurological symptoms strikingly similar to multiple sclerosis, a disease of the brain and spinal cord.

Other physiological side effects may include brain degeneration or parkinsonism, a disease related to Parkinson’s disease.

Depending on the type of inhalant and the specific product being abused, these side effects may not be permanent and may be reversed by discontinuing the abuse of inhalants. In some cases, however, these effects may be permanent. Some examples of permanent damage caused by inhalant use include damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain, including permanent death of brain cells resulting in memory loss and difficulty obtaining new knowledge. This side effects are especially dangerous in individuals under the age of 25, because the brain does not fully develop until that time. In some cases, the brain may never fully develop, which is referred to as Delayed Behavioral Development.

Inhalant abuse usually creates effects that mirror alcohol intoxication, but may also have psychoactive effects. Slurred speech, increased gregariousness, diminished motor skills, dizziness and hallucinations are common.

The immediate side-effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • Insomnia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Convulsions

  • Coma
  • Suffocation
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Repeated inhalant abuse can have serious consequences on a person’s long-term physical and mental health. These effects are quite serious and can be life-threatening because the chemicals in inhalants can build up in the fatty tissue of major organs.

Some health consequences of long-term inhalant abuse include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Brain damage
  • Death of brain cells
  • Memory loss
  • Learning difficulties
  • Delayed Behavioral Development
  • Loss of vision

  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Changes in personality
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory damage
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Loss of coordination
  • Limb spasms

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Recognizing an Inhalant Addiction

It may be hard to determine if an addiction to inhalants exists. However, there are criteria established that are used to diagnose this addiction. It is characterized by having two or more of the 11 symptoms of a substance use disorder as outlined by the DSM. These criteria are based on repeated use of the drug despite known negative consequences. Someone addicted to inhalants will continue to use them in spite of their damaging health effects.

Intervention for an Inhalant Addiction

Without the proper motivation, people addicted to inhalants may refuse to accept treatment. Staging an intervention is a good way to persuade someone with an addiction that they need help. If you are concerned that your loved one will be unresponsive or deny their problem when approached, you may need to contact a professional to help.

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Inhalant Withdrawal, Treatment and Next Steps

Inhalant addiction may come with physical and psychological withdrawal effects. These symptoms may last for up to five days, but many people do not experience any withdrawal. Psychological withdrawal is marked by irritability and the inability to feel normal without the substance while physical withdrawal effects generally consist of headaches and fatigue.

Symptoms of inhalant withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Intense cravings

Treatment for an addiction to inhalants may include behavioral therapy, support groups, 12-step programs or inpatient rehabilitation programs. The type of treatment that is appropriate for each individual depends on the extent of their addiction and any underlying mental conditions. Find a treatment center for inhalant addiction now.


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