Inhalants and alcohol are both commonly accessible drugs and can include household items such as:1
- Paint thinners.
- Substances in aerosol cans.
- Whipped cream canisters.
- Video head cleaner.
They are usually the most easily accessible substance for young drug abusers and are easy to obtain, often inexpensive, easy to conceal, and provide a quick high.
Inhalants may be viewed as less risky than street drugs and far easier to obtain than prescription drugs. However, they are not harmless and can have serious short-term and long-term effects on users just like alcohol can. When mixed together, the harmful effects of alcohol and inhalants become amplified.
The Side Effects of Inhalants
As a broad category of drugs, inhalants are comprised of a number of commonly abused substances that include household solvents, volatile organic compounds, and other toxic chemicals. When inhaled, many of these substances provide a depressant effect on the central nervous system resulting in a slowing down of various body processes.
The short-term effects of using inhalants can include:2,3
- An intoxicating high or feelings of euphoria.
- Slurred speech.
- Poor coordination.
- Reduced inhibition.
- Loss of consciousness.
Sudden sniffing death syndrome can occur at any time during some types of inhalant use, even the first time, as the substances may cause fatal cardiac arrhythmias or lead to cardiac arrest.2 Some inhalants are capable of displacing the oxygen that is breathed into the lungs and can result in a loss of consciousness and potential brain injury.
Long-term effects can be very serious and irreversible, including:
- Damage to the kidneys, liver, bone marrow.
- Hearing loss and damage to the myelin sheath surrounding nerves, leading to:
- Loss of coordination.
- Muscle spasms.
- Brain damage.
Cognitive damage is also common in abusers of inhalants, such as:4
- Impaired memory.
- Lack of attention span.
- Various decreased measures of intelligence.
Many inhalant users express feeling a strong desire to continue using inhalants compulsively, leading to difficulties functioning in a social or work environment and often show an increased likelihood of substance use disorders.2
Side Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant similar to inhalants. The short-term effects are comparable to inhalant intoxication, slowing how the brain works along with motor skills, leading to:5
- Slurred speech.
- Poor balance and coordination.
- Impaired judgment.
- Reduced inhibitions.
- Loss of consciousness or even death (if consumed in large amounts).
Over time, alcohol use can wreak havoc on the body. Alcohol affects every organ system in the body, including the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, immune system, and digestive tract, and has been linked to increased risks of specific types of cancer, such as of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast.6
Side Effects of Taking Inhalants With Alcoholic Drinks
Since both inhalants and alcohol are central nervous system depressants, when combined the effects become synergistic or create a stronger effect than either substance would on its own. The intoxicating effects of inhalants appear extremely quickly and in some cases effects can be felt within seconds.1 Alcohol, on the other hand, has to be absorbed through the stomach and small intestine, and effects appear after approximately 30 minutes.5
Pairing inhalants with alcohol can create a deadly combination, with the inhalant intoxication appearing quickly, and the alcohol strongly intensifying the inhalant high as well as the toxic effects on the body. This can lead to severely impaired judgment and decision making, possibly leading a user of both alcohol and inhalants to make extremely poor choices with negative consequences that he or she may never have even considered when sober.
Mixing inhalants with alcohol can also intensify the negative effects on the user’s body. Users who drink while using inhalants are at increased risk for damage to major organ systems, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, and liver.
The likelihood of brain damage and death are much higher when these two drugs are combined, due to the nature of central nervous system depressants slowing respiration and heart rate, especially when combined in large amounts or over long periods of time. This damage can be irreversible.
Abuse of alcohol and inhalants can also lead to impaired functioning at work or in social settings.5 Inhalants can lead to changes in demeanor as well. Users may become belligerent or apathetic and their social or vocational ability may suffer due to the increased need to obtain and use the substance of choice.1
Treatment for Addiction to Inhalants and Alcohol
It can be difficult to find treatment centers that specialize in the treatment of inhalant use disorders, although alcohol treatment centers are much more widespread. Both alcohol and inhalant use can cause withdrawal syndromes with similar effects, such as hallucinations, nausea, hand tremors, and delirium tremens, although withdrawal from alcohol can also include seizures, and can be life threatening.3
For this reason, a medically supervised inpatient detoxification is strongly suggested and can take 40 days or more, while alcohol detoxification alone is done in approximately a week.3
Medication-assisted treatment can help reduce the discomfort from withdrawal. Once this is completed, treatment protocols are similar, although treatment for inhalant use may require additional support and vigilance.7
Hotline to Call
Please call our 24-hour hotline if you need information about treatment for addiction to inhalants or alcohol for yourself or for a loved one who’s experiencing the effects of mixing inhalants and alcohol.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Research report series: Inhalants.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). DrugFacts: Inhalants.
- National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. (2012). About Inhalants.
- National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. (2004). Drug Abuse Advisory Alert #12.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Alcohol.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
- Baydala, L. (2010). Inhalant Abuse. Paediatrics & Child Health, 15(7), 443–448.