Signs, Symptoms, and Side Effects of Inhalants Abuse

Inhalants are substances – such as nitrates and aerosol sprays – that produce vapors for a person to inhale. Inhalants induce a psychoactive effect when sniffed or inhaled due to the changes happening in the central nervous system (CNS).

These substances are dangerous and have a great risk for misuse, especially since they are easily obtained. Most inhalants can be found on store shelves or in someone’s cabinet. Although other commonly misused substances can also be inhaled, the general term for “inhalants” is described as a substance that can produce mind-altering effects and can only be inhaled.

What Are Inhalants?

As mentioned above, inhalants are substances that are normally found in medical, household, and industrial products (e.g. butane lighters). There are four categories of inhalants:

  • Gases: Examples of gas inhalants are refrigerants, butane lights, ether, and nitrous oxide. Of these gases, nitrous oxide is misused most often and is found in whipped cream dispensers.
  • Volatile solvents: These solvents are liquids that produce a vapor at room temperature, which is then inhaled. This category of gases is the most inexpensive, easiest kind to obtain. Glues, paint thinner and remover, nail polish remover, felt-tip markers, and gasoline are examples of volatile solvents.
  • Aerosols: Spray cans that contain solvents. Some substances used as aerosol inhalants are hair sprays, spray paint, and cooking sprays (vegetable oil).
  • Nitrates: These inhalants are different from others as they affect one’s body differently. Instead of altering the CNS, nitrate inhalants relax muscles and dilate blood vessels which increases sexual pleasure, making nitrates work as a sexual enhancer. They are typically sold as leather cleaners and room deodorizers. Other types of nitrates are isoamyl (amyl), isobutyl (butyl), and cyclohexyl, and are referred to as “poppers.”

Inhalants Addiction

A person can easily become psychologically reliant upon inhalants. When someone is misusing inhalants, there are certain behavioral effects they might display, such as:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor or impaired motor skills (stumbling, falling, dropping items)
  • Stains from paint or other substances on clothes, face, and hands
  • Sniffing the sleeves on clothing
  • Hidden clothes or rags that have a chemical smell
  • Hiding empty containers and butane lighters

A person taking inhalants may also appear to be drunk and disorientated.

Inhalants are dangerous and produce severe long-term effects. If you or someone you know is suffering from inhalant misuse, seeking early help is the best course of action to prevent any permanent damage.

Inhalants Long-Term Effects

The immediate effects of inhalants can be dangerous due to the mind-altering effects; however, recurring, regular use is also dangerous as this may cause long-term permanent damage to major organs. Some reports of long-term inhalant use have shown severe brain damage from lack of oxygen flow and overexposure to chemicals. Inhalants may also cause damage to the liver, kidney, lungs, and nerves.

If you believe that you or someone you know is misusing inhalants and developing substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village today. We are available to help you begin a drug-free life. To find a location and treatment plan that’s right for you, visit us online at or call our toll-free 24/7 hotline at 855-548-9825.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.