Inhalant drugs offer the promise of a powerful high without the hassle of visiting a drug dealer. Since the brain changes come from household products, many users believe huffing is relatively safe. In reality, this type of abuse can cause dependency, and that leads to withdrawal.

If you think someone you love has an issue with inhalants, it’s time to take action. Learn what inhalants are and what the withdrawal timeline looks like.

Armed with this information, you’ll know what to do to help the person you love. Recovery from this type of drug abuse is possible, and you can be part of the solution.

What are Inhalants?

Inhalant substances were never intended for drug use. In most cases, these substances were designed for household or industrial use. But the fumes they produce can change brain chemistry, leading to a powerful high.

CAMH (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health-Canada) reports that there are hundreds of inhalants. They can be placed into four groups.


Paint, hair lacquer, cooking oil, deodorants, and other products sold in aerosol cans fall into this category.


Gasoline, paint thinner, felt-tip markers, and other products that evaporate when exposed to air are placed in this category.


Laughing gas, butane lighters, and propane tanks are included here.


Amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate, sometimes sold as “poppers,” are placed in this group.

These products aren’t uncommon in kitchens, workshops, garages, and some workplaces. They have legitimate uses, so it’s difficult to ban them due to drug abuse concerns.

Many of these products are also inexpensive, and consumers don’t need to show proof of age to buy them. Low cost and ease of purchase make inhalants appealing to a specific demographic.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says 1.8 million people 12 and older used inhalants in 2015. Adolescents were the most frequent users, as 2.7 percent of those ages 12 to 17 tried these drugs to get high.

But it’s a mistake to assume that teens are the only inhalant abusers. Adults with low incomes and few employment opportunities may also be enticed to dip into inhalants. They may not be able to afford conventional drugs, but inhalants might fall within their price range.

Phases of Inhalant Withdrawal

As soon as inhalants enter the body, they start delivering profound changes. Minutes later, the body begins to eliminate these drugs. This is the process of withdrawal, and the length of drug abuse determines its severity. The longer people abused inhalants; the longer and more severe this process will be.

Withdrawal moves through several, predictable steps.


This step lasts for several minutes. It includes generally pleasurable symptoms.

  • Excitability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Euphoria
  • Flushed skin
  • Dizziness

To extend these sensations, some users take repeated doses of inhalants.

Early Withdrawal

A body subjected to repeated inhalant exposure develops dependence. Within a day or so of use, early withdrawal symptoms can appear.

  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Seizures

These issues worsen during the week that follows drug cessation.

Late Withdrawal

After a week or so of drug cessation, acute symptoms may fade. But other issues may appear and persist for a month or so.

  • Amnesia
  • Poor mental functioning
  • Depression
  • Cravings for inhalants

How Does Intoxication Feel?

Every type of inhalant works in a slightly different way. Most take hold immediately, and they produce a sensation akin to alcohol intoxication. That transformation is fleeting, and minutes later, it’s gone.

During an episode of inhalant intoxication, people feel a burst of euphoria and giddiness. Their muscles relax, and their skin begins to tingle. The worries of the day seem to fade away, and they feel a surge of affection for those around them.

Inhibitions drop, so people feel giddy and silly. They may also feel drowsy and ready to fall asleep at any moment.

It’s important to realize that these symptoms appear suddenly. One minute, the person feels sober. Seconds after taking the hit, everything changes. That shift from one state to another is difficult for the brain to adjust to.

Intoxication can also come with drug cravings, especially in people who have used inhalants many times over a short period. As soon as the high starts to slip away, people may reach for inhalant substances to take another hit.

Every exposure to inhalants causes damage to brain cells. That damage can build and develop into drug dependency. When that happens, people can go through withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop drug use.

What Does Early Withdrawal Feel Like?

Brain cells dependent on chemicals need those substances for optimal functioning. When there are no inhalants available, cells call out for those drugs. The brain and the body can also seem to malfunction in the absence of inhalants, and that leads to uncomfortable and persistent side effects.

Withdrawal symptoms worsen between day two and day five of inhalant cessation. The most severe side effect of early withdrawal involves tremors.

Muscles can cramp and repeatedly loosen, causing intense pain. Muscles can also spasm, and in severe cases, this can lead to seizure-like activity.

Hallucinations, irritability, and anxiety can also take hold. People may not recognize their loved ones, and they may resist the help of their doctors.

Brain cells know that a hit of inhalants will make the discomfort fade. Cravings for drugs can be intense during this period, as cells call out for the solution that seems right to them.

What Does Withdrawal Feel Like Later?

Inhalant drugs are stored in fatty cells, and that means they can stick around in the body for an extended period. These fat cells can break down slowly, and when they do, they trickle substances into the body at a slow rate.

Detoxification involves removing all drugs from the body. For people with inhalant addiction issues, that can take a long time.

Some research suggests that true inhalant detox takes about a month to complete. During this time, people might feel residual symptoms from inhalant withdrawal. They may have some days that seem worse than others, but they may never feel completely at ease during this time.

How Does Medical Detox Work?

The body can process drugs naturally. Medical detox helps to improve the process. In a program like this, doctors use medications to ease the most significant symptoms, and in some cases, they provide medical care for the physical damage caused by addiction. The goal is to alleviate distress, so people stay in treatment.

Inhalant abuse can cause significant brain tissue damage. During intoxication, cells can be starved of oxygen, and they can die.


Neurological tissues don’t regenerate, so the problems are permanent. This damage can result in memory loss, an inability to learn, and poor emotional control.

Since this harm is so common in people who abuse inhalants, some experts believe all people with this form of addiction should also be assessed for mental health issues.

There are excellent medication options available for people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Treating those issues reduces relapse risk, and in some cases, this therapy can ease withdrawal symptoms.

In some medical detox programs, doctors start medication management of these underlying mental health issues, so that you can feel more comfortable with a new life without drugs.

Ongoing Inhalant Abuse Can Also Cause Other Issues.

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Neurological disorders
  • Chemical burns
  • Lead poisoning
  • Renal disease

These medical issues can be uncomfortable, and they can boost the risk of a return to drugs. During a medical detox program, doctors can address these health challenges, so another relapse risk is removed.

Medical detox is not considered a form of addiction therapy.  People are at risk of returning to inhalants without further treatment. Since these substances are so common, they’ll be surrounded by temptation at all times.

A formal addiction treatment program should follow medical detox, so people can learn how to maintain the sobriety they achieve.

What Happens in Addiction Therapy?

People who abuse inhalants over a long period can develop a physical and emotional dependence on drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that inhalant abuse is uncommon but indeed happens. Those who engage in it need therapy to get better.

Some addictions are treated with medication management. People with heroin addiction, for example, can use medications that mimic some of the actions of the drug, so their cravings are reduced.

Unfortunately, there are no such drug therapies for inhalant addiction. That doesn’t mean the issue can’t be treated.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help to break apart the cycle of drug abuse. People will learn to:

  • Anticipate. Drug use doesn’t happen suddenly. Often, specific situations or feelings strengthen drug cravings. Therapy helps to highlight those triggers.
  • Evaluate. Drug use can seem harmless, but for people with addiction, even one hit holds dangers. Treatment helps to tease out the short-term and long-term consequences of drug use.
  • Cope. When a craving hits, meditation, exercise, or positive self-talk can block the impact. Those tools and others are explored in therapy.
  • Avoid. Once people know what triggers a craving, they can learn to avoid it.

Therapists can also use motivational incentives, such as small cash rewards or vouchers, to make sobriety seem rewarding.

Attending support group meetings can also be helpful, as they allow people with addictions to meet peers and share information together.

How Can You Help?

Spotting the signs of intoxication and withdrawal can help you know when to start a conversation about addiction. This is a good time to explain how treatment works.

You can also express your support. Addictions are isolating, and it isn’t uncommon for people to feel utterly alone in the fight. Your thoughts of love and your promise to stay involved during recovery could be just what’s needed to start the person you love on a path of healing.

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