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What Effect Is Inhalant Addiction Having on My Body?

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People of all ages experiment with inhalants. The National Institute on Drug Abuse covers common usage inhalants by age group. Users who start between the ages of 12 and 15 most commonly abuse inhalants like glue, spray paint, and lighter fluid. Whereas new users between 16 and 17 most commonly abuse nitrous oxide or “whippets.” Adults tend to abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites—such as amyl nitrites or “poppers.”

No matter what age you are and no matter what your inhalant of choice is, you are risking your very life with your use. Inhalants have a profound effect upon the brains and bodies of users and many, even first time users, pay for their experimentation with their life.

The Brain

Most inhalants (nitrates are the exception) depress the central nervous system, as do many drugs. The effects of inhalants are very similar to those of alcohol; users can lose control of their balance and coordination and slur their speech as the inhalants effect the cerebellum (the part of the brain that coordinates and regulates muscular activity). Chronic abusers suffer tremors and uncontrollable shaking.

The damage inhalants do to the brain may also result in light-headedness, hallucinations, and delusions. With repeated inhalations, many users lose their inhibitions and self-control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.

When inhalants lead to cellular death in the cerebral cortex (the part of the brain that plays an important role in consciousness), permanent personality changes, memory impairment, hallucinations and learning disabilities may occur.

Inhalants can moreover cause brain damage by stopping oxygen flow to the brain.

Nitrites, unlike other inhalants, enhance sexual pleasure by dilating and relaxing blood vessels.

The Body

Because there are over a hundred different products that can be used as inhalants, there are a wide range of effects on the body.

Short term effects include:

  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • abdominal pain
  • severe mood swings
  • violent behavior
  • belligerence
  • slurred speech
  • numbness
  • tingling of hands and feet
  • nausea
  • hearing loss
  • depressed reflexes
  • stupor
  • loss of consciousness
  • limb spasms
  • fatigue
  • lack of coordination
  • apathy
  • impaired judgment
  • dizziness
  • lethargy
  • visual disturbances

Serious long-term effects include:

  • weight loss
  • muscle weakness
  • disorientation
  • inattentiveness
  • lack of coordination
  • irritability
  • depression
  • liver and kidney damage
  • hearing loss
  • bone marrow damage
  • loss of coordination and limb spasms due to damage to myelin (a protective sheathing around nerve fibers that helps nerves transmit messages in the brain and peripheral nervous system)
  • serious liver and kidney damage

Inhalants can also be lethal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly cause heart failure within minutes. This syndrome, known as ‘sudden sniffing death,’ can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy young person. High concentrations of inhalants may also cause death from suffocation, especially when inhaled from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area.”

As nitrites are a special class of inhalants, their effects relate to enhancing sexual pleasure and performance. Because of this, abusers frequently display unsafe sexual practices that increase the risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.


According to the Alliance for Consumer Education, 17,000 people use inhalants each day. Most of those users are currently or will deal with a related addiction. Although inhalants don’t contain a specifically addictive component, users do develop tolerance over time and will experience withdrawal symptoms. Studies show withdrawal symptoms can be part of inhalant dependence and are clinically significant. These symptoms may include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Nervousness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscular cramps

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