Mental Health Effects of Inhalants Abuse and Addiction

  1. Why Is This Important?
  2. Inhalants and the Brain
  3. Do Inhalants Cause Anxiety?
  4. Suicide and Inhalants Abuse
  5. Inhalant Abuse and Depression
  6. Auditory Hallucinations
  7. Personality Disorders
  8. Antisocial Behavior and Delinquency
  9. Sources

What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are a class of volatile substances that include solvents, aerosols, nitrites and gases and produce psychoactive effects when used. They are found in commonly occurring household products like cleaners, deodorants, and nail polish.
What are Inhalants?

Why Is This Important?

Mental Health Facts:

Inhalant users show the highest rates of mental illness diagnoses.

Inhalant use is linked to exacerbating the symptoms of:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Personality disorders.
  • Suicide.
  • Self-harm behaviors.

Inhalant abuse and mental health is an important topic because:

  • Inhalants cause serious damage to the central nervous system (sometimes after a single use) and can disrupt emotional, neurobiological and psychological mechanisms; especially in adolescents.
  • They are readily available due to being commonly found in most homes:
    • They are relatively low in cost.
    • They are typically used by young children and adolescents.
    • They have been known to lead to other drug use.
  • According to research, public health professionals and parents are concerned because inhalants affect cognition and brain maturation.
  • Because of the relatively short-acting and short-lasting high from inhalants, many users inhale increasingly large amounts, a practice that can lead to irreparable toxicity and neurological deficits.

Co-occurring mental illness and inhalant addiction can severely complicate treatment and recovery efforts. If you have been abusing inhalants and need help with quitting, treatment programs can help you get back on the right track. Please call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? to find a comprehensive treatment program that suits your needs.


Inhalants and the Brain

Inhalants increase dopamine in certain brain regions and also depress central nervous system activity. Long-term inhalant abuse has lead to persistent dysfunctions in the mesolimbic dopamine system causing cognitive and behavioral deficits.

To simplify the effect of inhalants on the brain:

Psychological Impact Icon

  • At lower doses, inhalant use causes immediate feelings of euphoria, excitation, and light-headedness (consistent with increases in dopamine).
  • Prolonged use and higher doses cause CNS depression which may result in:
    • Slurred speech.
    • Dizziness.
    • Impaired coordination.
    • Headaches.
    • Blurred vision.

Severe central nervous system depression can result in seizures, coma and in worse cases--death.

According to research:

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Long-term use of inhalants may impair cognitive abilities leading to memory loss, difficulty concentrating and attention deficits.

  • Neurobiological abnormalities related to damage of the brain's white matter have been linked to long-term inhalant use.
  • Inhalant use can lead to tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in ears) which may develop into hearing loss if use persists.
  • Inhalant users are at an increased risk for head injury or traumatic brain injury, which can occur because of loss of consciousness during use.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, or difficulty moving your hands and feet, is another significant side effect of prolonged huffing.

Do Inhalants Cause Anxiety?

  • Inhalant abusers show a high lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders, around 35% according to some evidence.

    • Research in this area is scarce, but some evidence seems to indicate that there is an increase in 'state' anxiety amongst inhalant users.
      • State anxiety is specific to a certain context or period of time, like becoming afraid of the dark, whereas "trait anxiety" refers to a more stable anxiety across time and context.
    • Female inhalant users have a higher prevalence of panic and phobic disorders.

Suicide and Inhalants Abuse

  • Epidemiological studies indicate that inhalant users have high suicidality rates compared to non-users--this includes ideation; successful and unsuccessful attempts.

    There is a theory that the relationship is mediated by underlying mental illness and that inhalants may be used as a form of self-medication to relieve symptoms of these illnesses.

    • In one study, the number of planned suicides among inhalant users was found to be equal to the number of planned suicides in people with other psychiatric illnesses, but the number of unplanned suicides was greater in children and adolescents who used inhalants.

Anxiety, suicidality and depression are extremely difficult to deal with, particularly if they cause (or are caused by) inhalant abuse. If you are suffering from the effects of inhalant abuse, don't hesitate to seek treatment. Proper treatment programs can address both the mental health problems and the substance abuse. Please call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? and seek help today.

Inhalant Abuse and Depression

  • The prevalence of mood disorders amongst inhalant users is significantly high. Inhalant use may be a way to self-medicate depressive symptoms (to achieve temporary euphoric effects), but prolonged inhalant use can also lead to depression because of CNS suppression.

    It is important to evaluate mood disorder symptoms when treating inhalant abuse.

    • Female inhalant users tend to have a higher prevalence of mood disorders--including major or chronic depression.
      • Depressive symptoms are associated with feelings of hopelessness and suicidal tendencies.

    Depressive symptoms can be treated with antidepressants, which are most effective when inhalant use has ceased.

Auditory Hallucinations

  • Research shows that auditory hallucinations related to inhalant abuse are common amongst youth. As mentioned earlier, tinnitus is a common symptom of chronic inhalant use and many users report hearing a ringing or roaring sound after losing and regaining consciousness.

    Users also report hearing voices when using.

Personality Disorders

Data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions showed 45% of inhalant users surveyed had a lifetime prevalence of personality disorders.

  • Antisocial personality disorder was most frequently diagnosed among inhalant users and more prevalent in males than females, 36% versus 22% respectively.
  • Avoidant, paranoid and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders are also significantly correlated with inhalant use.

Antisocial Behavior and Delinquency

Inhalant use has been associated with antisocial behavior, delinquency, school truancy, and deviant behavior.

  • Incarcerated youth have a higher lifetime prevalence of inhalant use.
  • Inhalant users show high rates of criminal behavior.
  • Chronic inhalant use can increase anger and aggressive behavior; this may explain the tendency towards committing deviant acts that is exhibited by some users.


  • Brannon, G.E. (2014). Medscape: Inhalant-related psychiatric disorders. Retrieved from
  • Cruz, S.L., Rivera-Garcia, M.T. & Woodward, J.J. (2014). Review of toluene action: Clinical evidence, animal studies and molecular targets. The International Journal Of Drug and Alcohol Research, 3, doi: 10.4303/jdar/235840.
  • Snyder, S.M. & Howard, M.O. (2015). Patterns of inhalant use among incarcerated youth. PLoS One, 10 (9), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135303
  • Takagi, M.J., Yucel, M. & Lubman, D.I. (2010). The dark side of sniffing: Paint colour affects intoxication experiences among adolescent inhalant users. Drug and Alcohol Review, 29(4), 452-455.
  • Woodward, J.J. & Beckley, J. (2014). Effects of the abused inhalant toluene on the mesolimbic dopamine system. The International Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research, 3, doi:10.4303/jdar/235838
  • Wu, L. & Howard, M.O. (2007). Psychiatric disorders in inhalant users: Results from the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 88(2-3), 146-155.
  • Zubaran, C., Foresti, K., Thorell, M.R., & Franceschini, P.R. (2013). Anxiety symptoms in crack cocaine and inhalant users admitted to a psychiatric hospital in southern Brazil. Journal of the Brazilian Medical Association, 59(4), 360-367.

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