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Inhalants are volatile chemical substances that produce vapors that, when inhaled, can induce psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects. Unlike some other drugs, these products are not intended for human consumption but are used because they are widely available and can be legally purchased. Some common inhalants include glue, “whip-its” (nitrous oxide found in whipped cream cans), cleaning products (such as computer dusters), and lighter fluids.

Some common side effects of inhalant use include severe headaches, nausea, fainting, accelerated heartbeat, and vomiting. Since inhalants are absorbed through the respiratory tract, chronic use can lead to serious health issues affecting multiple organs, including liver or kidney damage, convulsions, damage to the lungs, stroke, anemia, peripheral neuropathy, brain damage, and sudden death. Inhalant drugs are not designed to be inhaled or consumed so they can cause significant long-term damage if used chronically.

If you or a loved one are unable to control your inhalant use, please seek support from a treatment professional. We’ve provided resources throughout this guide to help better understand the nature of inhalant addiction. Our team is also available to help with a free, confidential phone call.

Effects of Inhalants On the Brain

Inhalants produce a drowsy, hazy feeling when used because the chemicals inside these products slow down brain activity and disrupt the messages the brain sends to the body, particularly the nervous system. At the same time, researchers now believe that inhalants also release the "feel good" chemical dopamine in the brain, causing a short-lived "high" that could entice users to try the drug again.

Because the brain's connection to the nervous system becomes disrupted with inhalant use, many users will find it difficult to control their fine motor movements and may have challenges speaking or walking. They may also feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even experience hallucinatory experiences of sights, sounds, and experiences that are not real.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Use

While the “high” from inhalants is very short-lived, chronic inhalant use can result in a variety of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and behavioral complications. If you are concerned about a loved one who may be misusing inhalants, please contact an addiction treatment professional as soon as possible to discuss the appropriate next steps.

Common signs and symptoms of inhalant use include:

  • Substance odor on breath and clothes
  • Runny nose
  • Watering eyes
  • Drowsiness or unconsciousness
  • Poor muscle control
  • Distractibility
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Depression
  • Change in behavior
  • Change in sleep pattern

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms

When a chronic user of inhalants stops using them suddenly, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to severe, depending on their level of drug use. Some of these symptoms include both psychological and physical effects.

Withdrawal occurs when an individual chooses to stop taking a drug after a period of continuous use. Because the brain and body have become accustomed to the presence of the drug, they must go through a period of re-adjustment to return to a baseline level of sobriety. This process can be uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. As a result, it’s critical that individuals looking to get sober seek out professional oversight from an addiction treatment provider during this time.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of inhalant withdrawal:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Mood changes

Inhalants are dangerous substances that can be found in a wide array of everyday products. Because this drug is absorbed through the respiratory tract, usage can lead to long-term damage to organs and bodily functions and, in some cases, can be fatal.

Next Steps & Seeking Help

If you or a loved one are concerned about inhalant use, please contact a treatment professional as soon as possible. Licensed professional treatment providers can provide vital resources to assist with managing withdrawal, selecting the appropriate program, and maintaining your recovery for the long term.

Turning Point of Tampa has helped individuals find recovery from addiction and substance use since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact us at 813-882-3003 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.

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