What Is Inhalant Use Disorder?

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Inhalant use disorder, or inhalant abuse, is when a person becomes addicted to inhaling toxic fumes from everyday household substances like glue, nail polish remover, or spray paint with the goal of getting intoxicated. It can cause serious health risks like brain damage, heart problems, and even death.

This article will describe the symptoms to watch for, causes of an inhalant use disorder, how diagnosis works, and what treatments are available. You'll also learn what recovery group options exist for people with inhalant use disorder.


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Inhalant Use Disorder Symptoms

The symptoms of inhalant use disorder can be broken down into physical signs and behavioral signs.

Physical Signs

Physical signs and symptoms of inhalant use disorder include the following:

  • Paint or oil stains on clothing or body
  • Chemical odor on breath
  • Spots or sores in or around mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movement)
  • Double vision or seeing double
  • Stained fingernails

Behavioral Signs 

Behavioral signs and symptoms of inhalant use disorder include the following:

  • Dazed or spaced-out appearance
  • Dizziness or unsteady gait (the way a person walks)
  • Slurred speech (like a drunken slur) 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Anxiety, irritability, or excitability (mood dysregulation) 
  • Sleep disturbances

Inhalant use is extremely dangerous and can cause sudden death by suffocation.


The exact reason for individuals' inhalant use disorders varies. But there are several theories as to risk factors and why and how inhalant use disorder develops. Associated risk factors include:


Inhalant use disorder is more common in the younger population, especially the 10–16 age range. This may be due to the accessibility of substances that can be inhaled over the availability of other recreational drugs. Inhalants are inexpensive, legal, everyday products that are easy to get at any age.

Mental Health Disorder

About 70% of people with inhalant use disorder also meet the criteria for a mood, anxiety, or personality disorder. This doesn't mean that mental illness or substance use disorder causes the other, but it does suggest similar underpinnings. For instance, similar biological and environmental factors that put people at risk for substance use disorder apply to mental health disorders as well.

Childhood Trauma

Traumatic stress, especially in the early, developmental years, is a risk factor in substance use disorder, including inhalant use disorder. Toxic stress from adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can harm a child's brain development and stress response. In turn, these children may have below average attention and decision-making skills.


Diagnosing inhalant use disorder is based on criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5 ) that fall under four major categories. These categories are defined as:

  • Impaired control: Using more of the inhalant than intended, not being able to stop using or slow down using despite best efforts 
  • Social problems: Relationship issues, giving up activities once enjoyed, retreating from everyday life in order to get intoxicated
  • Risky use: Inhalant use, in general, is risky drug use
  • Physical dependence: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using or when reducing the amount of use

If you suspect you have an inhalant use disorder, it's important to look at your behavior and consider talking about it with someone you trust.


Treatment for inhalant use disorder may include the following steps.


Medically necessary detox may be needed to safely withdraw from inhalant use. A person withdrawing from inhalants can experience headaches, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations, runny eyes or nose, craving the substance, fast heartbeat, depressed mood, and anxiety.

Detox ensures medical needs are met first by helping a person remove the substance from their system before moving on to other forms of treatment. 


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is an evidence-based form of treatment for substance use disorders. Talk therapy options include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to identify problematic thought patterns that contribute to addictive behaviors. With CBT, you may begin to see the reason behind inhalant drug use and develop healthier coping skills.

Support or Recovery Groups 

There are many recovery groups that may provide a sense of community as you recover. Support groups offer a sense of belonging and a place to rely on for ongoing support in between therapy sessions. 12-step recovery programs can be used to treat addiction, but not all recovery groups are 12-step-based. You may wish to look into SMART Recovery if you’re seeking an alternative to the 12-step model. "SMART" stands for "Self-Management and Recovery Training." 


Coping with inhalant use disorder requires the help and support of medical care and mental health providers. Inhalant use disorder is dangerous and can be fatal. If you or a loved one is using inhalants, speak with a professional who can help you determine the reasons behind your disorder. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with inhalant use disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


Inhalant use disorder is a substance use disorder that can impact anyone but is more common in youth than adults. The causes are complex and can include a person’s age and whether they’re living with childhood trauma or a mental health disorder. Diagnosis for inhalant use disorder happens in a clinical setting.Medical detox, talk therapy, and support groups are all part of ongoing recovery. 

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with inhalant use disorder can be scary, stressful, frustrating, and confusing. If you’re in this position, bear in mind you may need additional support during this time. If you're a loved one of someone with inhalant use disorder, joining a recovery group for parents or partners may help you connect to others and find a sense of support that may help you cope.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast facts: preventing adverse childhood experiences. April 6, 2022. 

  7. Hasin DS, O'Brien CP, Auriacombe M, Borges G, Bucholz K, Budney A, Compton WM, Crowley T, Ling W, Petry NM, Schuckit M, Grant BF. DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale. Am J Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;170(8):834-51. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12060782. 

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By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.