Inhalant Detox Guide: Symptoms, Timeline, and Effects
Inhalants are a group of substances — in many cases, household products — which, when inhaled through the nose or mouth, produce mood-and mind-altering experiences, including a sense of euphoria as well as feelings of relaxation. Most people have dozens of inhalants in their homes, as some of these items are solvents, cleaners, or other products with legitimate household uses. These include markers, spray paint, cleaning fluids, gasoline, lighter fluids, nitrous oxide, glues, and nitrites. Inhalant abuse is particularly popular amongst children and adolescents due to the ease of accessibility, but adults abuse them as well.1
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), precise categorization of inhalants is challenging because there is such a great variety of them. One classification system narrows it down to the following 4 categories:1
- Aerosols: Spray paints, deodorants, aerosol computer cleaning products, and cooking sprays.
- Volatile Solvents: Gasoline, glues, lighter fluid, felt-tipped markers.
- Gases: Whipped cream dispensers, nitrous oxide, ether, chloroform, and butane lighters.
- Nitrites: Includes the various alkyl nitrites, including amyl nitrite, which is a vasodilator used as a sexual enhancer, often marketed as “leather cleaner” or “video head cleaner.”
Some statistics concerning inhalant abuse include:1,4
- Individuals most likely to abuse inhalants are adolescents and pre-teens.
- In 2016, nearly 8% of 8th graders reported having used inhalants in their lifetime and just under 4% had used an inhalant in the last year.
- In the same year, 6.6% of 10th graders and 5% of 12th graders reported having abused inhalants at some point in their lives.
- Inhalants are the only class of substances that are abused more frequently by younger teens than by older teens.
While these inhalants are easily obtained, they are still considered severely dangerous, and repeated abuse can lead to inhalant addiction, a progressive condition characterized by continued use regardless of the negative impact on a user’s life.1 Once a user becomes addicted to inhalants, it can be difficult to quit due to distressing withdrawal symptoms. Inhalant detox treatment and substance abuse treatment can help you promote positive change and obtain and maintain sobriety.
What Are the Immediate Effects of Inhalant Abuse?
Inhalant abuse is never safe. The short-term effects can cause significant impairment in functioning and may even be life-threatening. Those who abuse inhalants may experience the following immediate effects:7
- Impaired judgment.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Slurred speech.
- Delayed reflexes.
- Muscle weakness.
- Coordination problems.
- Increased heart rate and body temperature.
Inhalant abuse can be deadly, leading to heart failure or irregular heart beats within minutes of huffing. This syndrome is referred to as “sudden sniffing death” and can occur the first time a person abuses an inhalant.6 Inhalant users can also die from asphyxiation, in which the fumes replace available oxygen in the lungs; suffocation, due to inhalation of fumes from a plastic bag; choking on vomit; seizures; or coma.6
What Are the Dangers of Chronic Use?
Continued use of inhalants can seriously impair your mental and physical health. This is because inhalants are extremely toxic to the brain and body. Failure to seek treatment for inhalant abuse over time can cause a variety of conditions, including:6
- Liver damage.
- Kidney damage.
- Bone marrow damage.
- Poor coordination.
- Spasms in arms and legs.
- Brain injury impacting thinking movement, vision, and hearing.
- Severe dementia.
- Heart failure resulting in death.
- Developmental impairment in fetuses.
- Suppressed immune system.
- Reproductive system toxicity.
Another risk of chronic inhalant abuse is the development of a dependence. Once someone is dependent on inhalants they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to quit or reduce use. These unpleasant withdrawal symptoms may contribute to a cycle of compulsive inhalant use that can be difficult to break.
Some long-term effects are reversible if you quit using inhalants, which is why it’s so important to seek help immediately if you use inhalants or have an inhalant addiction. A professional detox or addiction treatment program can provide you with the support necessary to avoid relapse and live a happier and healthier life.
Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Withdrawal
Prolonged inhalant abuse can lead to dependence, which is the body’s adaptation to the presence of a drug. When a user develops a dependence on an inhalant substance, they may feel as if they need to consistently use it to function normally. If inhalant use is abruptly discontinued or reduced, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms may emerge.
Due to the wide variety of inhalants abused, withdrawal symptoms may vary depending on the specific type of inhalant. The following are potential symptoms associated with inhalant withdrawal:2,5
- Runny nose or eyes.
- Hand tremors.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Sleep disturbance.
- Rapid pulse.
- Severe inhalant cravings.
Detox Duration and Process
Because inhalants cover a wide spectrum of products, it is difficult to pinpoint an inhalant detox timeline.
Some factors influencing the manifestation of inhalant withdrawal include:2
- The length of time inhalants were used.
- The amount and frequency of inhalant use.
- What other drugs, if any, were combined with using the inhalant.
- One’s physical and psychological health.
Recovery from any kind of drug abuse is a process. It begins with the desire to seek help.
Withdrawal timelines for inhalant drugs in general can be expected to be on the order of 2 to 5 days, although those with medical or mental health conditions may have to endure a longer period of detox.2
If other drugs are involved, this complicates the detox process as the individual must be treated for varying withdrawal symptoms. This may lengthen the detox period and require a different set of interventions. Because many people who use inhalants are under the age of 18, and because there is a significant risk that alcohol and other drugs are also being consumed, treatment in a secure and monitored medical setting can ensure safety during withdrawal.
Recovery from any kind of drug abuse is a process. It begins with the desire to seek help. The next step is finding a detox program in which one can safely detoxify from inhalants. Detoxification is a process in which the body clears itself of dangerous toxins.
While detoxification is a vital first step on the road to recovery, it does not constitute comprehensive substance abuse treatment. Therefore, patients can benefit from transitioning into an addiction treatment program once they complete the detoxification process.
There are several treatment programs available to those wishing to overcome an addiction to inhalants. Some of the interventions these programs utilize include:
- Individual therapy.
- Group counseling.
- Relapse prevention classes.
- Aftercare planning.
- Medical care.
- Psychiatric care.
Every addiction treatment program has its own unique philosophies and utilizes different interventions, so it’s important to conduct your own research when looking for the right treatment program that fits your needs.
Is Inhalant Detox Necessary?
There are many signs and symptoms associated with inhalant addiction. If you exhibit two or more of these signs, it may indicate that your withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be fatal. Why? Because there have been reports of inhalant withdrawal resembling a dangerous condition seen in cases of acute alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens.2
Someone with an inhalant addiction at risk of these severe withdrawal complications would likely benefit from a formal inhalant detox program. The following symptoms may signify an addiction to inhalants:3
- Failing to carry out important home, school, and work responsibilities.
- Failing to cut back or quit inhalant use.
- Using inhalants in larger quantities or for a longer time period than planned.
- Spending a lot of time finding, using, and recovering from inhalant use.
- Experiencing strong urges or cravings to continue using inhalants.
- Continuing to use inhalants in spite of psychological or physical conditions caused or worsened by use.
- Continuing to use inhalants despite significant social or interpersonal consequences.
- Developing a tolerance to inhalants, which means the user requires increasing amounts to experience the desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when inhalant use is abruptly discontinued or reduced.
If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction to inhalants, a detox program can assist during the withdrawal process and ensure safety and comfort.
Types of Detox Programs
It’s important that you meet with a doctor who can recommend a withdrawal treatment program that suits your individual needs.
Inpatient detoxification provides an additional layer of safety and supervision as your body goes through this transition into a drug-free life. This form of detox treatment is beneficial to those who have a severe addiction, a polydrug addiction, or co-occurring mental health or physical conditions. You will be monitored 24 hours a day and can get immediate assistance should complications arise. You will also be separated from your old environment that may trigger you to reinstate inhalant abuse.
Not everyone requires inpatient treatment when detoxing from inhalants. A physician can facilitate detox on an outpatient basis, but this requires regular office visits so that your health can be closely monitored. You can also receive detox services at an outpatient facility that has experience in treating inhalant detoxification. It’s important that you meet with a doctor who can recommend a withdrawal treatment program that suits your individual needs.
Regardless of the type of detox program you choose, it is vital to your recovery that you consider transitioning into a formal substance abuse treatment program following detox to help you better build the foundation for long-term sobriety.
Addiction Recovery Programs
Most inhalant addiction recovery programs combine several treatment modalities to provide you with the coping strategies and sober social skills you need to maintain sobriety in your everyday life. Treatment can help to address the underlying reasons that you began to abuse inhalants in the first place and help to rectify unhealthy, drug-seeking behaviors.
Following the initial detox period, without continuing with a recovery program—either in an inpatient or outpatient setting—the risk of relapse is high, particularly if you return to your old, using environment.
Inpatient treatment is designed to provide a comfortable setting for you to put in the work required for living a clean and sober life. You will live at the facility for the duration of the treatment program, which can vary depending on your addiction, needs, and mental and physical health. During treatment, you will participate in a variety of services including group, individual, and family counseling. You will learn about relapse prevention and your treatment team will work with you in creating your aftercare plan. You will be free from distractions or triggers so that you can focus solely on your recovery.
There are a number of factors that impact the cost of inpatient treatment. These include the location of treatment, length of treatment program, amenities of the facility, and the type of insurance coverage you have. For this reason, it is important to do your research to find the best fit for your needs.
Some people participate in an outpatient treatment program, which allows you to live at home and continue participating in your daily life, directly after detox, while others complete inpatient treatment and then utilize outpatient as step-down treatment. Outpatient treatment offers a variety of options.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) usually run 5 days a week for 4-5 hours a day. Medication may be administered in that setting, if necessary. Intensive outpatient (IOP) is similar, but meets 3-4 days a week for a shorter period of time and does not typically administer medication. Standard outpatient therapy generally involves meeting with a therapist in an individual or group setting for 1-2 times per week for an hour or two per session.