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Alcohol And Inhalants: Is This Mix Dangerous?

alcohol and inhalants

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Both alcohol and inhalants can produce powerful euphoric sensations, leading some users to combine them. While combining alcohol with inhalants produces sensations some might find pleasurable, the risks are not worth it. Here is what is risked when combining inhalants with alcohol.

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How the Combination of Alcohol and Inhalants Affects Health

The difference between alcohol and inhalants is vast. Liquor impacts neurotransmitters in the brain, slowing the central nervous system and producing a sense of euphoria as a result, while the high from inhalants is caused by cutting off oxygen to the brain, creating psychoactive effects. Because the two highs are different, many people abuse the two substances simultaneously, hoping to achieve a greater sense of euphoria.
However, combining inhalants and alcohol can lead to serious health effects. These include:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Lack of coordination
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Hostile behaviors
  • Apathy
  • Poor judgment
  • Going in and out of consciousness
  • Blackouts and memory struggles
  • Migraines and severe headaches
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain
  • Diminished intelligence and cognitive abilities
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Death from heart failure or asphyxiation

Additionally, the interactions between volatile vapors and liquor are not stable and can change between substances and even between manufacturers or within batches of the inhalant of choice. This unpredictability is part of why it is dangerous to mix alcohol and drugs. And this is not unique to volatile vapors; marijuana, depressants, and pseudoephedrine and alcohol are just a few examples of other common mixtures that are also unpredictable.

glass with alcohol and vapor

Statistics on Inhalants and Drinking

Inhalant abuse isn’t as well-covered in the media as other addictions; opioid abuse makes headlines while things like weed-infused alcohol get covered online. Despite alcohol mixed with inhalants not being seen as noteworthy, the abuse of both substances is ongoing, and at shockingly high rates.
Few substances of abuse are as easy to access as alcohol and inhalants. Both are legal to purchase and readily available. This makes alcohol mixed with aerosol or ammonia inhalants one of the easiest, and cheapest, ways for someone to get high.

This ease of access makes these substances of abuse particularly appealing to young people, who could likely find both in their home. As such, it is no surprise that roughly 10 percent of adolescents have used inhalants to get high.

Across people of all ages, roughly 22 million persons in the United States have abused inhalants. Given over 86 percent of people also consume alcohol, there will obviously be a significant overlap between those abusing liquor and those abusing volatile vapors. However, volatile vapors, in general, are not well-studied in terms of their effects or their prevalence of abuse, and studies on how often they are used with liquor are even more rare, making it difficult to pinpoint how many people abuse both at the same time.

Signs a Person Is Abusing Alcohol and Inhalants Together

Because the high from volatile vapors is short-lived, signs of abuse may not be present until long-term effects have set in. When looking for signs of concurrent use of inhalants and alcohol, it is common for signs from liquor use to be easier to spot. Some symptoms of use loved ones can look for to determine if someone is using inhalants mixed with alcohol include:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Acts of violence
  • Struggles with speech and forming thoughts
  • Frequent complaints of head pain
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Breath that smells bad or strange
  • Rashes around the mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Residue around the nose and mouth
  • Hallucinations and erratic behavior

Something else to watch out for is other risky behaviors, especially involving liquor. For example, to fight the headaches caused by volatile vapors, they might mix ibuprofen with alcohol. If their mood swings resulting from abuse worry them, they could end up combining Prozac and alcohol.

In general, any unusual or risky behavior is a sign that there could be a problem, even if it is not related to inhalant and liquor abuse.

How Alcohol and Inhalants Addiction Is Treated

Treating co-occurring alcohol and inhalants addiction is complicated, as there are numerous effects on the body that need to be considered. Liquor abuse has the potential to harm the liver and cardiac systems to the point of organ failure while inhalant use can damage everything from the kidneys to the brain. Those seeking to recover from their abuse may have severe physical conditions that also must be addressed.

man with kidney ache

Process of Recovery

Liquor addiction tends to require a detox period, where the patient is carefully monitored and given medicines to help them stay safe while their body gets used to no longer having the substance. Inhalants also require detox, but of a different kind. It is possible that the user will need to detox from each at separate times to avoid overstressing their body.

After the detoxification process is complete, the user will get targeted therapies to help them avoid relapse going forward. Because both substances are easily accessed, treatment for these addictions is usually pretty intense, with inpatient care being preferred, at least to start the process.

Seek Help if Needed

It is critical that users get help with both addictions and not just volatile vapors. While liquor use is seen as more socially acceptable, it is just as harmful in the long run. Liquor also interacts with many substances. For example, Claritin and alcohol are problematic. Even antibiotics and alcohol can cause problems. Stopping use is the only solution.
If someone is abusing alcohol and inhalants, they need to seek help. Rehabilitation centers know how to address these addictions and help patients live a better life. When someone turns to the right team for help, the path to getting sober becomes clear.

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View Sources
  1. Rachel N. Lipari. Understanding Adolescent Inhalant Use. The CBHSQ Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3095/ShortReport-3095.html
  2. Inhalants. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/inhalants
  3. Howard MO, Bowen SE, Garland EL, Perron BE, Vaughn MG. Inhalant use and inhalant use disorders in the United States. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2011;6(1):18–31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3188822/
  4. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
Isaak Stotts

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.

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