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Inhalant Dependence: Teen Version


What are inhalants?

Inhalants are chemicals that produce fumes. Examples are glue, paint thinner, and lighter fluid. Dependence means a person feels that they cannot function without using the drug.

Children and teens abuse inhalants because they are easy to get and have mind-altering effects when sniffed or "huffed." These chemicals reach the lungs and bloodstream very quickly and can be deadly. High concentrations of inhalant fumes can cause heart failure or suffocation. Using inhalants with other depressant drugs such as alcohol or sleeping pills can be fatal.

Using inhalants regularly for a long time can cause permanent health problems. These include memory loss, brain damage, personality changes, muscular weakness, fatigue, and nerve damage starting in the hands and feet. Inhalants permanently harm your liver, kidneys, eyes, bone marrow, heart, and blood vessels.

Young people who use inhalants heavily may not learn how to solve problems, handle their emotions, or become responsible adults.

Children born to inhalant-abusing mothers may have growth and development problems.

How does it occur?

Inhalants change body chemistry, especially in the brain. At first you may use the drugs because you like the way they make you feel. You are dependent on a drug if you feel you need it to function.

You have a higher risk of becoming dependent on inhalants if you:

  • have ADHD, depression, or anxiety
  • have a family history of drug abuse
  • abuse other drugs

What are the symptoms?

You may be dependent on inhalants if you have been using them and:

  • cannot control your movements, get clumsy, and slur your words
  • become psychotic (for example, think you can fly and injure yourself)
  • develop disturbed thinking or become paranoid
  • get depressed
  • start acting odd, suspicious, dramatic, or antisocial
  • use inhalants all through the day
  • have problems such as missing school or work, fighting, and losing friends
  • are not able to cut back or stop using inhalants even though you know they are hurting you
  • feel exhilarated ("high") and are hyperactive
  • have trouble making good decisions
  • get sleepy or move slowly
  • have ringing in the ears, dizziness, and blurred vision
  • get nervous, upset and disoriented
  • have headaches and chest and stomach pains
  • feel sick to your stomach and throw up
  • have weak muscles and trouble speaking
  • hallucinate (see or hear things that aren't there)
  • get aggressive and violent

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and substance use and examine you. A sample of your urine may be tested for drug use.

How is it treated?

For any treatment to work, you must want to give up using inhalants.

If you have used inhalants for a long time, withdrawal is not easy. When you stop inhaling, you may go through withdrawal symptoms, such as being irritable, restless, depressed, slow, and tired. You may get aggressive or have chills, headaches, and hallucinations. It is best to stop use of inhalants under supervised care.

You may be prescribed medicines to treat agitation, anxiety, depression, mood changes, paranoia, or hearing voices.

How long will effects last?

Psychotherapy or drug rehab treatments do not always help people who abuse inhalants. Users often go back to abusing inhalants. Follow-up treatment is very important.

How can I take care of myself?

The best way to help yourself is to see your healthcare provider and stop using inhalants.

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Avoid situations where people are likely to use alcohol or drugs.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for inhalant abuse, contact the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at 1-800-269-4237 for information on treatment centers.


Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-02-07
Last reviewed: 2010-04-26

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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