Inhalant Addiction

The instant effects of inhalant usage are powerful, but because they last such a short time, users will continue to “hit” on the baggie or the open container to get it back again, over and over. The high only lasts for about 10-20 minutes for most inhalants, but the first hit packs such a powerful punch that it leads the user down a garden path to active addiction.

Who Uses Inhalants?

Inhalants are unique in the drug world for heavy abuse at very young ages. This is the only class of abused substances having a higher use rate for younger teens than for older teens and adults. First-time users are generally kids between the ages of 12-15. Most are beginning their experimentation with drugs/alcohol at a time when social and peer pressure is heavy. New users most commonly begin with inhalants because they are the easiest substances to acquire, are free if found around their home environments, and can be accessed more readily than other resources. Most often, they begin to use by trying glue, spray paint, gasoline, lighter fluid, spray cleaners or shoe polish.

How It Begins

Using to fit in with the crowd may be the beginning of the cycle of addiction. It is a long-standing debate in several communities whether addiction begins with the substance or with the addictive personality of the addict. Without addressing either side of the argument, it is important to recognize two facts about inhalants: 1. They are used by a very young and impressionable population and 2. They are poisons and toxins, not drugs. This makes them even more dangerous and their effects much more permanent and deadly. While it may begin as an experiment in getting high, inhalant use can be seductive. The effects wear off quickly, making the appeal even stronger, because users feel that they must be innocuous if they are so quick to wear off. A tragic statistic cited in research is that of 1000 inhalant-caused deaths in a British study, 200 of them were first-time users (, 2012).

Why Is Whiffing So Addictive?

Addiction to inhalants can begin instantaneously. The impact on the central nervous system is powerful and immediate. The effects wear off quickly, but leave the user with a need to continue to use to recapture the initial high. Dependence and tolerance both begin to form in the user from the first use. Most will continue use of inhalants at the initial session for several hours. This increases their risk for brain damage and instant death which occurs in several ways from inhalant abuse. Various mechanisms in the brain create addiction to inhalants. Whether the addiction is chemically or behaviorally charged, or both, the past belief that inhalants were not addictive is now proven false. The reward center of the brain becomes overstimulated with ongoing use and triggers the user to get more and more involved in using behaviors and ongoing use, a deadly cycle that requires intervention in several layers to effectively stop the use.

What Happens to an Addict's Body?

Depending on the type of inhalant used, the addict will react to the substance, as well as the behaviors around using. All of them penetrate the brain in varying degrees. They all have in common (except for nitrate gases) several effects; these are a depression (slowing) of the body’s functioning, increase in heart rate, and loss of senses. This is somewhat similar to the effects produced by alcohol and many of the behaviors and symptoms of use are like them. However, due to the toxic nature of inhalants, there are important and dangerous differences. Some of these are the likelihood of passing out and becoming nauseated at the same time. This leaves the user susceptible to death by choking on their vomit. While this occurs with alcohol consumption on occasion, it is a frequent cause of death for inhalant users. Another difference for inhalant users is that prolonged use, even on the first occasion, may induce hallucinations and/or delusions. These can become very dangerous is the user continues to use inhalants on this occasion. Other symptoms that increase with use are slurred speech, glazed or watering eyes, nausea and vomiting, and reduced response/reaction time. Senses will be dulled and/or completely obliterated. Vision, hearing and other senses may be permanently impacted by the chemical compounds/toxins taken into the body. Cancer and heart attack, asphyxiation and sudden death are common in long-term use.

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