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Inhalant-Related Disorders

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. Updated: Jun 5th 2019

Inhalant use disorder

The diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder were previously reviewed. These criteria apply to inhalant use disorders.

teen boyInhalants refer to a wide variety of household products containing hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons produce vapors. Intoxication occurs by inhaling these vapors. Users disperse these products into a paper bag and then inhale the vapors deeply. This practice is known as huffing. Users "huff" products such as glue, gasoline, paint thinners, cleaners, and various aerosols. Inhalants reach the bloodstream very quickly. They produce significant psychoactive effects. These products are inexpensive, legal, and widely available.

Like alcohol and marijuana, inhalants are one of the first drugs used by young people. Inhalants are readily available and inexpensive. People with inhalant use disorders may neglect responsibilities. They often continue to use despite their awareness of the harmful effects. Inhalant use is particularly alarming because people often use the inhalants in situations where judgment and coordination are critical (e.g., driving a car). Chronic, long-term use may lead to serious, lasting complications. These include brain damage, liver and kidney disease, and even death. Moreover, even a single use can result in permanent brain damage.

Inhalant use is more common among males during their adolescence and young adult years. You can detect inhalant use by a residue, odor, or burn on clothing or skin. Sometimes users attempt to conceal the odor with air fresheners, perfume, and fabric fresheners. There may also be a rash near the nose and mouth, and the eyes may appear red and irritated.

A significant withdrawal pattern has not been documented in humans. Therefore, there is not diagnosis for inhalant withdrawal.

Effects of Inhalants: Inhalant intoxication

Inhalant Intoxication produces various behavioral and/or psychological changes. These may include aggressiveness; anxiety; impaired judgment; poor social functioning; and even delusions and hallucinations. Physical effects include dizziness; headaches; nystagmus; poor coordination; slurred speech; coughing; lack of balance; sleepiness; poor reflexes; slowed movements and/or tremors; muscle weakness; poor vision; and even coma. Because of the toxic nature of inhalant products, inhalant use can be fatal on the first use. Death does not appear to be related to dose.


A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

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