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Is Vicks Inhaler Addictive?

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Since over-the-counter medications are typically less potent and more easily accessible than prescription drugs, many people believe that they pose little risk of harm, even if they are used improperly. Is this true? For example, can nasal decongestant abuse be dangerous? Is Vicks inhaler addictive?

Is Vicks Inhaler Addictive?

As established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), substance use disorders (addictions) are characterized by “cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues using the substance despite significance substance-related problems.”

The DSM-5 also notes that substance use disorders are linked with underlying changes in brain circuitry as well as a pathological pattern of behaviors. 

It’s not difficult to see these symptoms reflected in someone who has become addicted to alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers, and other dangerous drugs. But can someone who uses a Vicks VapoInhaler in an improper manner ever be impacted to the point that they meet these criteria? 

In other words, is Vicks inhaler addictive?

Most sources agree that the answer to the question, “Is Vicks inhaler addictive?” is that no, these devices are not addictive as defined by the DSM-5. 

But this doesn’t mean that all over-the-counter medications are also non-addictive, nor does it mean that inhalant abuse isn’t a potentially devastating behavior.

What Is in a Vicks Inhaler?

One of the reasons why people continue to ask, is Vicks inhaler addictive, is that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when this medication contained a substance called levmetamfetamine (or l-methamphetamine), which is an isomer of methamphetamine. 

However, as noted in a 2022 report that was published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the manufacturers of the Vicks VapoInhaler removed this ingredient in 2016. Of course, even when Vicks inhalers contained levmetamfetamine, this doesn’t mean that the over-the-counter medication was anywhere near as powerful or dangerous as meth.

Today, Vicks VapoInhalers contain the following ingredients:

  • Camphor
  • Menthol 
  • Methyl salicylate
  • Abies sibirica oil

The packaging for this medication includes a notice that it contains “non-medicated soothing vapors.”

Are Vicks Inhalers Dangerous?

Virtually every medication can cause some side effects and pose certain dangers, especially when abused. The Vicks VapoInhaler packaging includes a warning that its use may cause the following:

  • Temporary burning
  • Stinging
  • Sneezing
  • Increased nasal discharge
  • Infection (if the device is shared with others)

Individuals who are allergic to any of the ingredients in Vicks VaporInhaler may also have an adverse reaction of they use it.

Are Other Inhalers Dangerous?

The relative safety of Vicks inhalers doesn’t mean that similar products are also virtually risk-free. 

For example, in March 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to people who use and/or abuse a nasal decongestant called propylhexedrine. In the United States, this substance is sold under the brand name Benzedrex.

According to the FDA warning, propylhexedrine is safe when used as directed (meaning when it is used by someone age 6 or older who takes no more than four inhalations every two hours for a period not to exceed three days). 

But when someone exceeds the recommended dosage level or frequency of use, the FDA reported, they may be at risk for severe complications, which can include the following:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Paranoia

These side effects, the FDA warned, could result in “hospitalization, disability, or death.” 

Also, a September 2023 article in the Ear, Nose & Throat Journal noted that the abuse of nasal decongestants containing xylometazoline and oxymetazoline may be associated with a variety of negative outcomes, including nasal swelling, congestion, and a form of dependence. 

“It is safe to say that [nasal decongestant] sprays can be habit-forming, creating a vicious cycle of congestion, thus perpetuating patients’ symptoms instead of relieving them,” the article’s authors wrote.

Other Types of Inhalant Abuse

Over-the-counter medications are by no means the only substances that people sometimes inhale in an attempt to achieve a recreational high. Inhalant abuse can involve a variety of substances that are commonly found in many households, such as:

  • Solvents (including gasoline, lighter fluid, glue, and paint thinner)
  • Aerosols (including hair spray and spray-on deodorants)
  • Gases (including propane from grill tanks and butane from lighters)
  • Nitrates (including products that are marketed as room odorizers or video head cleaners)

Depending on which type of inhalant a person abuses, as well as the amount and frequency of their inhalant abuse, the potential negative outcomes can include:

  • Impaired cognition
  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hearing loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Injuries due to impaired judgement and coordination
  • Overdose 
  • Death

Find Treatment for Inhalant Abuse in Atlanta

If someone in your life has been abusing over-the-counter inhalers or other substances, they may be in crisis and could need professional care. Peachtree Recovery Solutions can assess the full scope of your loved one’s needs, provide them with an accurate diagnosis, and develop a personalized treatment plan to help them end this dangerous behavior.

Treatment options at our center in Atlanta, Georgia, include detoxification, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Each of these programs is staffed by a team of skilled professionals who are committed to offering superior service within a safe and respectful environment.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today. We look forward to answering your questions and helping you determine if Peachtree Recovery Solutions is the ideal place for your loved one.