Leading Article

CNS Drugs

, Volume 26, Issue 11, pp 927-935

First online:

Volatile Substance Misuse

Clinical Considerations, Neuropsychopharmacology and Potential Role of Pharmacotherapy in Management
  • Eric L. GarlandAffiliated withTrinity Institute of the Addictions, College of Social Work, Florida State University
  • , Matthew O. HowardAffiliated withUniversity of North Carolina Email author 

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Volatile substance misuse is among the most prevalent and toxic forms of psychoactive drug use, and often results in highly deleterious social, psychological and medical consequences. The prevalence of this pernicious form of substance misuse owes in part to the fact that volatile substances of misuse are ubiquitous in the natural environment. Commonly misused commercial products include glue, shoe polish, nail polish remover, butane lighter fluid, gasoline and computer duster spray. National samples of volatile substance misusers tend to exhibit high rates of psychiatric problems and antisocial behaviour. In addition, cognitive impairments and affective dysregulation are often observed among these individuals. Volatile substances exert their complex neuropharmacological effects on dopaminergic, glutamatergic, GABAergic and serotoninergic receptor systems, as well as on cell membranes and ion channels. Concomitantly, pharmacotherapies for volatile substance abuse might profitably target a number of mechanisms, including reward circuitry in the brain, symptoms of craving and withdrawal, neuropsychiatric and emotional impairments that promote volatile substance abuse, and cognitive enhancement to rectify deficits in executive function. This review details the modes of use, subjective effects, epidemiology, adverse consequences, neuropsychopharmacology and drug treatment of volatile substance misuse, and discusses the potential role of novel forms of pharmacological intervention for this oft-overlooked public health threat of epidemic proportions.