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Inhalant Use Disorder: Teen Version



  • Inhalant use disorder is a pattern of using inhalants that leads to serious personal, family, and health problems. When breathed in through the nose or mouth, inhalants can make you feel dazed or numb.
  • Inhalant use disorder can be treated. For any treatment to be successful, you must want to stop using inhalants. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine that will help you get through withdrawal symptoms. Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, support groups, and therapy may be helpful.
  • The best way to help yourself is to see your healthcare provider and make plans to stop using inhalants.


What is inhalant use disorder?

Inhalants are chemicals that produce fumes. Inhalants are breathed in through the nose or mouth. This is also called "sniffing" or "huffing” or “bagging." These chemicals reach the lungs and bloodstream quickly and cause symptoms that can be life threatening. There are many types of inhalants. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Gasoline
  • Aerosols such as spray paints, deodorants, and hair sprays
  • Nitrous oxide, sometimes called laughing gas
  • Glue
  • Felt tip markers
  • Paint thinner and nail polish remover
  • Lighter fluid and cleaning fluids

Young children and teens can get many of these items easily, which makes them more likely to abuse these types of drugs. Inhaling a product such as glue or lighter fluid can be life threatening.

Amyl nitrite ("poppers") is an inhalant used to improve the feelings that you have during sex. If you use amyl nitrate, you may not practice safe sex, which puts you at risk for HIV/AIDS.

Inhalant use disorder is a pattern of using inhalants that leads to serious personal, family, and health problems. The more of these statements that apply to you, the more severe your inhalant use disorder is.

  1. You use more or use inhalants for longer than you planned.
  2. You want to cut down or quit but are not able to do so.
  3. You spend a lot of time and energy getting drugs, using drugs, and getting over the effects.
  4. You crave inhalants so much that you have trouble thinking about anything else.
  5. You have problems at work or school or stop taking care of people who depend on you.
  6. You have relationship problems because you don’t keep your promises, or you argue or get violent with other people.
  7. You stop doing things that used to matter to you, such as sports, hobbies, or spending time with family members and friends, because of your inhalant use.
  8. You use inhalants even when it is dangerous such as while driving or operating machinery.
  9. You keep using inhalants even though you know that it is hurting your physical or mental health.
  10. You need to use more inhalant or use it more often to get the same effects. This is called tolerance.
  11. You have withdrawal symptoms when you stop using.

Inhalant use disorder may also be called drug or substance dependence or addiction.

What is the cause?

The cause of inhalant use disorder is not known. The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Inhalants change the balance of these chemicals in your brain. When you use inhalants, your brain starts to get used to them. Some of these changes may last even after you have stopped using inhalants.

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

  • Have a family history of drug or alcohol use disorders
  • Have abused alcohol or drugs in the past
  • Were abused as a child
  • Are easily frustrated, have trouble dealing with stress, or feel as if you aren’t good enough
  • Are regularly around people who use alcohol or drugs
  • Have a mental health problem
  • Have constant pain

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of inhalant use disorder depend on how much and how often you use the drugs. The symptoms can be mild to severe such as:

  • Having poor judgment
  • Loss of self-control
  • Being clumsy, unsteady, and weak
  • Feeling dazed or numb
  • Being dizzy, fainting, or having blurred vision
  • Having nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real
  • Feeling sleepy with a headache that lasts a long time
  • Having signs of brain damage such as being forgetful or not able to learn new things or carry on a simple conversation
  • Seizures and coma

If you use inhalants for a long time, you may have signs of damage to your nerves and muscles such as trouble walking, bending, and talking. It can also damage your brain, lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys.

Inhalant use can lead to depression, anxiety, abuse of other drugs, and suicidal thoughts.

Sniffing large amounts of inhalants at one time can cause death within a few minutes, even if you are a healthy person.

If you are pregnant and using inhalants, your baby may have learning, growth, and behavior problems.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how much and how often you use inhalants. Be honest about your drug use. Your provider needs this information to give you the right treatment. Your provider will also ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have blood or urine tests.

How is it treated?

Inhalant use disorder can be treated. For any treatment to be successful, you must want to stop using inhalants. Do not try to use alcohol and other drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help you get through withdrawal.

If you want to quit, get help.

Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, support groups, and therapy may be helpful. Kinds of therapy may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a good way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new thought and behavior patterns even after you stop going to therapy.
  • Family therapy treats all members of the family rather than working with one person alone. Often people with substance use disorders don’t realize they have a problem or aren’t ready to accept treatment. This leaves loved ones frustrated and confused It helps the whole family understand each other better and make changes.
  • Substance use disorder treatment programs. Your healthcare providers and counselors will work with you to develop a treatment program. You may be able to go to therapy a few times a week (outpatient therapy). Or you may need treatment in a hospital or rehab center. You may need to stay there for several weeks, or you may be able to go to a clinic or hospital each day.

Recovery is a long-term process. Many people with substance use disorders try to quit more than once before they finally succeed. Don't give up. You can quit and quit for good. Get help and try again. Follow-up treatment is important so that you don’t go back to using drugs.

If you have overdosed or are having severe withdrawal symptoms, you will need to be treated in a hospital. You will also be treated for any health problems such as a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening problems.

How can I take care of myself?

  • The best way to help yourself is to see your healthcare provider and make plans to stop using inhalants. If you are already seeing a healthcare provider, it is important to follow the full course of treatment 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, or take walks. Try yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a variety of healthy foods. Limit caffeine. If you smoke or use e-cigarettes, try to quit. Stay physically active as advised by your provider.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can make your symptoms worse.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the prescription and nonprescription medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and supplements you take.

Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

People and resources in your community that can help you include your healthcare providers, therapists, support groups, mental health centers, and alcohol or substance use disorder treatment programs.

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-12-07
Last reviewed: 2018-04-02
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 healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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