People with asthma typically use two types of inhalers to help treat their condition:

  1. Maintenance, or long-term control medications. They’re often taken daily to help manage asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks.
  2. Rescue, or quick-relief medications. They quickly relieve asthma symptoms. They can be used during an asthma attack.

Albuterol is a rescue medication. You may have heard that people can develop an addiction to asthma medications, such as albuterol. But is that true?

Albuterol itself isn’t addictive. However, people with poorly managed asthma may develop a dependence on it.

Read on to learn the signs of dependence and what you can do about it.

Addiction is when a person seeks out or uses a drug compulsively or uncontrollably, regardless of the negative health or social consequences that may be associated with this behavior.

Dependence can be further divided up into physical dependence and psychological dependence. Physical dependence is demonstrated via the presence of withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking a drug.

Psychological dependence happens when a drug becomes very prominent in your thoughts or activities. People with a psychological dependence may feel a strong urge to use a drug. This urge can be tied to things like having not used the drug for a while or to specific emotions, such as boredom or depression.

Dependence and albuterol

So, how does this relate to albuterol? While albuterol isn’t addictive, some people may develop a psychological dependence on it.

This can happen in people whose maintenance medications aren’t managing their asthma symptoms well. When this occurs, they may use their rescue medication more often to ease symptoms.

Overuse of rescue medications like albuterol can actually make symptoms worse or more frequent. This can lead to a cycle of continuing overuse.

Additionally, because albuterol and other rescue medications are readily available and quickly relieve symptoms, using them can become associated with feelings of security or relief.

Instead of continuing to frequently use their rescue medication, individuals whose asthma isn’t well managed may actually need a new maintenance medication.

If you notice that your asthma symptoms are frequent or getting worse, you should always see your doctor.

A 2004 pilot study of middle and high school students reported that about 15 percent of eighth and ninth graders said they had used nonprescribed asthma inhalers. Why is this? Can you get high off of albuterol?

Not really. The “high” associated with albuterol may be associated with the effects and side effects of the drug, which can include things like:

  • quick heartbeat
  • being more alert
  • having expanded lung capacity

Additionally, inhaling the propellant used in the inhaler may also cause feelings of stimulation or euphoria as well.

There are potential health consequences for overusing albuterol. Overuse has been associated with the following:

  • higher frequency of symptoms
  • worsening management of symptoms
  • increased frequency of asthma attacks

Additionally, using too much albuterol at one time can potentially lead to an overdose. Overdose symptoms can include:

If you suspect that you or someone else is having an overdose, seek emergency medical care.

People who overuse albuterol may notice an increase or worsening of their asthma symptoms. These symptoms can include things like:

  • difficulty breathing
  • being short of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • a feeling of tightness in your chest

Additionally, being aware of the frequency of your albuterol use may also help you determine if you’re using it too often.

One study found that, on average, those who overused albuterol took more than two puffs per day from their inhaler, while regular users took less than one.

Only use your rescue inhaler when you’re experiencing asthma symptoms. It doesn’t take the place of your maintenance medication.

Your doctor will provide you with specific information regarding when and how you should use albuterol. Always be sure to carefully follow their instructions.

Generally, the recommendation will be two puffs every four to six hours when you’re experiencing symptoms. Some people may only need one puff instead of two.

If you’re using your rescue inhaler three or more times per week, you likely need a better maintenance regimen.

Plan to talk to your doctor if you’re using albuterol three or more days a week, or if you find that you go through an entire canister in one month.

Having to use your rescue inhaler more frequently can be a sign that your maintenance medication isn’t managing your asthma well. Your doctor can work with you to adjust your treatment plan so you have to use your rescue inhaler less often.

Albuterol is a type of rescue medication for asthma. It’s used when asthma symptoms flare up and can help treat an asthma attack. Like other rescue medications, it doesn’t take the place of asthma maintenance medications.

Some people may develop a dependence to albuterol. This is often because their maintenance medication is poorly managing their asthma symptoms, so they find themselves using their rescue inhaler more and more often.

Overuse of albuterol can actually lead to increased frequency or worsening of symptoms. If you’re using your rescue medication three or more days of the week, see your doctor to discuss updating your treatment plan.