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Drug Rehab and Alcohol Treatment - Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse


Who uses inhalants?


Dr. Neil Rosenberg and Dr. Charles Sharp, two of the authors of a report called, Understanding Inhalant Users, commissioned by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, classified inhalant users into four main categories:


Transient social user - short history of use; use with friends; average intelligence; 10-16 years old.

Chronic social user- long history of use 5+ years; daily use with friends; minor legal involvement; poor social skills; limited education; brain damage; 20-30 years old.

Transient isolate user- short history of use; solo use; 10-16 years old.

Chronic isolate - long history of use 5+ years; daily solo use; legal involvement; poor social skills; limited education; brain damage; 20-29 years old.


Teenagers & Inhalant Abuse


One of the most interesting insights into inhalant use is who exactly does this. The research of who uses inhalants overwhelmingly points to kids in junior high and early years of high school.


An NIDA study found that 70% of the nearly 729,000 inhalant users were between 12 and 18 years old, with use peaking between 7th and 8th grade. They say this is because the household chemicals used as inhalants are easiest to find for young people who do not have access to other, more illicit drugs.


Based on a University of Michigan 2009 survey, inhalants are the second drug most likely to be used by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. The most abused drug is marijuana, followed by inhalants, cocaine, and lastly LSD.2


The study also notes that, in terms of race, African-American youth consistently show lower rates of inhalant abuse than Whites or Hispanics.2


Recognizing Inhalant Abusers


The National Institute on Drug Abuse report points out the signs that indicate whether or not a person, perhaps your child, is abusing inhalants. These signs of inhalant abuse are:2


 - Chemical odors on breath or clothing

 - Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes

 - Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, chemical-soaked rags or clothing

 - Drunk or disoriented appearance

 - Slurred speech

 - Nausea or loss of appetite

 - Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression

 - Headache after high


Stages of Inhalant Use


The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition notes academic and medical studies that develop four stages of the development of symptoms associated with huffing inhalants.


Stage One (Excitatory Stage):1


Symptoms may include: euphoria, excitation, exhilaration, dizziness, hallucinations, sneezing, coughing, excess salivation, intolerance to light, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin and bizarre behavior. 


Stage Two (Early Central Nervous System Depression):


Symptoms may include: confusion, disorientation, dullness, loss of self-control, ringing or buzzing in the head, blurred or double vision, cramps, headache, insensitivity to pain and pallor or paleness.


Stage Three (Medium Central Nervous System Depression):

Symptoms may include: drowsiness, muscular uncoordination, slurred speech, depressed reflexes and nystagmus or rapid involuntary oscillation of the eyeballs.

Stage Four (Late Central Nervous System Depression):

Symptoms may include: unconsciousness that may be accompanied by bizarre dreams, epileptiform seizures and EEG changes.


Important Facts about Inhalant Abuse and Addiction:


The inhalants used by people in America are typically household items. These items have a variety of uses and contain power chemicals, such as gasoline and cleaning fluid because they are meant for to power objects or cut through cooking grease. Because there is little safe guard in terms of the amount of chemicals used within a product that can be inhaled, when a person uses a common household material to get high, the effects are instant and strong.


Just as quick as a person reaches a high, typically the high does not last very long and when he/she comes off of the high, there can be intense headaches. There have been several cases reporting that first time inhalers have died.




1) Inhalants. National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. Accessed: August 18, 2010.

2) Research Report Series: Inhalant Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Printed May 1999. Revised July 2010. Accessed: August 19, 2010.

3) Sean Connoly. Straight Talking: Inhalants. 2006. North Mankato: Black Rabbit Books.

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