Key takeaways:

  • Inhalant abuse is particularly common amongst adolescents, owing to the ready availability of solvents, aerosols, and other abusable substances around the home. A report indicated that approximately 16.1% of 8th graders reported inhalant use, which is slightly higher than the rate of marijuana use among this group
  • In one study of young people who reported inhalant abuse, 11.1% reported signs of withdrawal from ceased inhalant abuse including headaches, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations, runny eyes or nose, craving, fast heartbeat, depressed mood, and anxiety
  • There are currently no medications used to treat withdrawal symptoms from inhalant abuse, though a trial using Baclofen, a GABAgenic medication sometimes used in treating alcohol withdrawal to manage symptoms and cravings, has proven effective

As very little research on Inhalant abuse, dependence and addiction exist, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the symptoms of withdrawal look like. However, as with any form of prolonged substance abuse, tolerance to inhalants can build over time, affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters and chemical balance. When someone stops abusing inhalants, they may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms as the brain adjusts to not having the drug.

Inhalant abuse

Common household items such as aerosols including hairspray, deodorant, spray paint, and fabric spray can be inhaled or ‘huffed’ for a short, intense high. These items also include household products and cleaning agents, solvents, and gases such as gasoline, lighter fluid, nitrous oxide, paint thinners, etc. One study found that inhalant abuse may be more common than previously thought, with 22 million Americans reporting inhalant use after the age of 12, with young people being most likely to report using inhalants. [2] 

Inhalant abuse is particularly common amongst adolescents, owing to the ready availability of solvents, aerosols, and other abusable substances around the home. A report indicated that approximately 16.1% of 8th graders reported inhalant use, which is slightly higher than the rate of marijuana use among this group. [1, 2] other surveys show that over half a million youths aged 12 to 17 years reported past-year inhalant use. [3] Inhalant abuse can be extremely dangerous, in some cases causing a condition known as "sudden sniffing death" whereby users experience a lack of oxygen to the brain and heart which most often results in heart failure. Identifying the warning signs of inhalant abuse early can prevent a fatal overdose.

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Inhalant withdrawal

In one study of young people who reported inhalant abuse, 11.1% reported signs of withdrawal from ceased inhalant abuse including headaches, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations, runny eyes or nose, craving, fast heartbeat, depressed mood, and anxiety. [4] Clinical studies on mice exposed to 1,1,1 — Trichloroethane (TCE), a widely abused solvent, displayed convulsions after four days of cessation from the substance. [5]

While most studies suggest that inhalant withdrawal symptoms are comparatively mild, the psychological and physical effects can still be extremely uncomfortable, especially for young people. These withdrawal symptoms can be made worse by the presence of any polydrug use, such as alcohol or stimulants, or any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Symptoms of inhalant withdrawal

Reported withdrawal symptoms of inhalant abuse are relatively mild, though the longer the history of abuse, the frequency, and the potency of inhalants abused can cause these symptoms to be more severe. Common inhalant withdrawal symptoms include:

 

Physical symptoms

  • Excessive sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle cramps
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

Behavioral symptoms

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anger outbursts

Psychological symptoms

  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Cravings
  • Poor memory

Withdrawal timescale

A timescale for inhalant withdrawal symptoms is hard to define as there are many factors that affect their severity and the period of time they occur over. These can include the types of inhalants being abused, the specific product, the length of time and how frequently they were abused, and whether there are any co-occurring substance or mental health disorders. Gender, genetics, and body weight can also play a role in determining the timescale and severity of inhalant withdrawal. 

In most cases, symptoms begin with 24 to 48 hours of discontinued use of inhalants. Physically, these are often the most severe and can include tremors, seizures, vomiting, heavy sweating, involuntary eye movement, dizziness, lethargy, and muscle weakness. Psychological withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, cravings, memory loss, insomnia, and in extreme cases psychosis. By the end of the first week, most physical symptoms will have eased, though psychological symptoms can persist, in some cases leading to depression. [1, 4, 6] 

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms are rare but can occur in those with a history of long-term use and often last for several weeks or months after inhalant abuse has stopped. These are normally characterized by continued psychological conditions such as heightened anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

Inhalant detox

There are currently no medications used to treat withdrawal symptoms from inhalant abuse, though a trial using Baclofen, a GABAgenic medication sometimes used in treating alcohol withdrawal to manage symptoms and cravings, has proven effective. [6] Outside of this, addiction specialists and medical professionals will often use various medications to treat nausea and physical discomfort felt during withdrawal. Detoxing from inhalants in an inpatient or outpatient setting can help ease the transition into recovery by providing a supervised and comfortable space for patients to successfully stop abusing inhalants.

Treatment for inhalant addiction

Once a medical detox has begun, a patient will usually be assessed, and a full treatment program established based on their level of inhalant abuse. Treatment for inhalant dependence can take place in either an inpatient facility, which will involve a stay in residential rehab for 30 to 90 days, or in an outpatient facility. 

Outpatient facilities can offer the same level of treatment and care as inpatient centers, but do not provide a safe space free from temptation. They do however allow people to carry on with other life responsibilities and are normally recommended for those with milder addictions or who have already completed a course of treatment in an inpatient facility. Treatment will also often include courses of behavioral therapy such as CBT or DBT which aim to provide people with the tools needed to manage triggers and to process negative emotional responses attributed to substance abuse. 

Once initial detox and treatment are complete, most patients will require ongoing recovery support, either through continued, though less intense, outpatient treatment or through the help of support groups. Treatment greatly improves the likelihood of making a full recovery from inhalant abuse, even after the detox phase is complete.