Albuterol is a type of inhaled medication that people use to treat asthma. There is no evidence that albuterol is chemically or psychologically addictive, but overuse of the medication may lead to physical dependence.
Albuterol is a beta-2 agonist. Drugs in this class help relieve asthma-related breathing problems by relaxing muscles in the lungs and widening the bronchi.
Albuterol is a type of rescue medication. It provides quick relief during an asthma attack. Unlike maintenance inhalers, which are for long-term use to help prevent asthma attacks, rescue medication is only for use during an attack.
Read on to learn more about whether albuterol is addictive. This article also looks at what can happen if a person overuses albuterol, how often a person should use albuterol, and more.
People cannot develop albuterol addiction. Addiction involves the uncontrollable pursuit of a drug or medication, even if it has harmful consequences.
Most addictive substances interact with the reward center of the brain to release feel-good chemicals upon use. Over time, this feeling decreases in intensity as the receptors in the reward center become less sensitive.
There is no recent or reliable research linking albuterol to the activation of the reward center.
According to a 2016 review, albuterol can lead to
Dependence is different from addiction. There are two types of dependence:
- Physiological dependence: This means a person experiences withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking a drug.
- Psychological dependence: This means a person feels a strong urge to take a drug when they have not done so in a while or when they feel bored, depressed, or anxious.
Albuterol dependence may also lead to aggressive behavior and hallucinations. However, this might be due to the propellant gas that comes with albuterol in the inhaler.
Learn more about drug dependence.
A person may overuse albuterol if their maintenance medications do not have the desired effect of reducing asthma attacks.
Using albuterol too often
- reduced asthma control
- more frequent attacks
- more frequent symptoms
This can lead to a cycle of overusing albuterol to manage more frequent asthma attacks, which can, in turn, lead to more attacks.
Taking too much albuterol at once can lead to overdose. Symptoms might include:
- chest tightness
- chest pain
- blurry vision
- a heartbeat that is faster than usual
- tingling of the hands or feet
A person should seek immediate medical help if they believe they are experiencing an overdose.
A person only needs to take albuterol when they are experiencing an asthma attack. Recognizing the signs of an asthma attack can help people with asthma understand when it is best to take albuterol.
An asthma attack will cause symptoms such as:
- pressure on the chest
Mild attacks typically last for a number of minutes, while more severe or prolonged attacks can be hours or days long.
Daily albuterol use may mean that maintenance medications are not reducing attacks enough. A person should contact their doctor for advice if this is the case.
If a person with asthma finds that they are taking albuterol when they are not having an asthma attack, or if they need to take it more frequently, it is best that they contact their doctor for advice. The doctor will be able to ask them questions about their symptoms and help them create a revised treatment plan if necessary.
Those who suspect an overdose should contact Poison Control via telephone at 1-800-222-1222 or on its web platform, webPOISONCONTROL.
Here are some frequently asked questions about albuterol.
Is it OK to use albuterol every day?
As albuterol is a rescue medication, people should only use it in response to an active asthma attack. If people are experiencing daily asthma attacks, they may benefit from a change in maintenance medications.
Can you stop albuterol cold turkey?
There is no evidence that people looking to switch albuterol for another asthma rescue medication need a controlled withdrawal period. However, it is best for a person to contact their doctor before they make changes to their treatment plan.
What is considered overuse of albuterol?
People using rescue inhalers such as albuterol more than two times per week may need to make changes to their treatment plan, as this can suggest that their asthma is not under control.
Albuterol is not addictive. However, people with asthma can develop a physiological dependence on albuterol. This occurs when maintenance medications are not controlling asthma as well as they should.
As using albuterol can also make attacks more frequent and symptoms worse, overuse can lead to a cycle of dependence.
Albuterol should never take the place of asthma maintenance medications. If a person is using albuterol more than two times per week, it is best that they contact their doctor to discuss their current asthma treatment plan. The doctor can advise on whether a person is overusing their rescue medication and recommend modifications to their current treatment where necessary.