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Inhalants Use Signs and Symptoms – What Are They?

Last Updated: March 21, 2024

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by David Levin

Inhalants are a broad range of chemical substances teens can find in every common household or workplace. Inhaling fumes of these substances can lead to different effects and consequences, depending on the type of chemical thatis used, as well as the health and mental state of every individual.

Almost every abused inhalant produces a feeling of pleasure and relaxation by depressing the central nervous system. Furthermore, these pleasurable effects are enhanced by psychoactive and mind-altering sensations.

There are four primary groups of inhalants, although they are difficult to classify because of their vast diversity. These four categories are:
Inhalant Use

  1. Volatile solvents – liquids used in common household substances (paint thinners and removers, degreasers, glues).
  2. Aerosols – sprays that contain propellants and solvents (spray paints, deodorants).
  3. Gasses –medical anesthetics, used for pain relief (ether, chloroform, halothane, nitrous oxide) and gasses used in a household (butane lighters, propane tanks).
  4. Nitrites are popularly known as “poppers” or “snappers” (cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite). The Consumer Product Safety Commission has prohibited them, but those who look hard enough can find it labeled as “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.” Nitrites are used mainly to enhance sexual experiences.

According to National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, the most popular inhalants with abusers are nail polish remover, gasoline, spray paint, rubber cement, and degreaser.

How to Tell That Someone’s Using Inhalants?

Sometimes signs of drug use aren’t visible. That is why everyone should be familiar with common signs and symptoms that go along with substance abuse. Here are some related to inhalants use:

  • Using slang—common street terms for inhalants are air blast, boppers, Hippie crack, laughing gas, poor man’s pot, rush, snappers and more
  • Red, runny eyes or nose
  • Paint stains on skin and clothes
  • Excitability
  • Lack of performance at school and work
  • Apathy
  • Finding inhalants and cans in the person’s belongings
  • Finding paper bags
  • Unpleasant chemical breath
  • Smell of spray and paint when you walk in on an inhalant user
  • Glassy eyes
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Problems with keeping up with the conversation subject
  • Drunk and disoriented appearance
  • New friendships, usually entirely new people emerge
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lying and stealing money

Most Common Inhalants Use Signs

The chemicals found in inhalants can produce effects during or after use. They vary depending on the dose, type, and duration of the abuse. Some typical inhalant use signs are the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sensation of heat and excitement that last for several minutes
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Belligerence
  • Impaired judgment
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Uncoordinated movements

Long Term Inhalants Use Signs

Many individuals, who have abused inhalants frequently over many days, have a strong need to continue using. A strong need to use can lead to addiction. Long-term signs of inhalants use can also occur, which are manifested by:

  • Constant breathing problems and suffocation – chemicals inhaled displace available oxygen in the lungs
  • Convulsion and seizures – because of abnormal electrical discharges in the brain
  • Severe damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys
  • Memory impairment
  • Intelligence degradation
  • Hearing loss
  • Coma
  • Choking
  • Fatal injury (motor vehicle accidents).

Family and friends’ support is relevant, and the most important start point. Of course, after facing the problem, it is recommended to reach out to a trained consultant, who will determine what kind of treatment should be applied based on an individual’s case.

Treatment can be inpatient and outpatient. Cases in which inpatient treatment is necessary are not rare. The most important thing is that treatment is effective. After detox, visiting a support group can help in coping with daily obligations and taking control in moments of weakness.

Page Sources

  1. Matthew O Howard, Brian E Perron. A Survey of Inhalant Use Disorders among Delinquent Youth: Prevalence, Clinical Features, and Latent Structure of DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria. BMC Psychiatry. 2009; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2657136/
  2. Matthew O. Howard, Brian E. Perron, Michael G. Vaughn, Kimberly A. Bender, Eric Garland. Inhalant Use, Inhalant-Use Disorders, and Antisocial Behavior: Findings From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2010 Mar; 71(2): 201–209. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841730/
  3. Li-Tzy Wu, Christopher L. Ringwalt. Inhalant Use and Disorders among Adults in the United States. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1592311/

Published on: February 11th, 2024

Updated on: March 21st, 2024

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

David Levin


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