Menu

Is Albuterol Addictive?

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 08, 2020

If you take albuterol for quick relief from your asthma, you may wonder if you could get addicted to it. The short answer is no. But it’s possible to:

  • Feel like you’re dependent on it
  • Use too much of it
  • Use it incorrectly

All of these things can lead to other kinds of issues.

Addiction vs. Dependence

You can’t get addicted to albuterol, but you can become psychologically dependent on it, especially if your asthma isn’t under control.

Psychological dependence is different from addiction. When you’re addicted to something, you have an overwhelming need to have it, even if it causes you or others you love harm.

Psychological dependence is also different from physical dependence. When you’re psychologically dependent on a substance, your body won’t go through withdrawal if you stop taking it. You might think about it often, or you might feel a strong urge to use it because you think you need it to be OK.

You can become psychologically dependent on albuterol when you use it too often.

Albuterol Overuse

About 25% of people who use albuterol take more of it than they need to. This can make symptoms of asthma come on more often, such as:

You also tend to have asthma attacks more often if you use albuterol too much. Your risk of an asthma-related emergency department visit or hospitalization is twice as high as those who use albuterol only when they’re having an attack, and at the proper dose.

Most overuse happens when you use albuterol to control your asthma instead of as a rescue medicine. If you use it when you don’t have symptoms, it makes side effects more likely.

People who overuse albuterol tend to be those who have a harder time with their asthma. It can be because they don’t understand their treatment well or because their condition gives them a negative self-image.

Some people may be likely to overuse albuterol if they have depression. Anxiety about your asthma can also contribute to overuse and psychological dependence. For example, you may feel panicked when you don’t have your albuterol inhaler nearby.

It's important to remember albuterol is quick fix, not a long-term treatment.

Monitoring Your Albuterol Use

If you notice side effects of albuterol or your asthma isn’t well controlled, talk to your doctor about how and when you’re taking it. It could be that you need to:

Change how you get it. If you use a nebulizer to inhale your drug, you may have fewer symptoms if you switch to a metered dose inhaler. If you use an inhaler, you may need to attach a spacer or chamber device to it. These are plastic tubes that can help make sure you're getting the most out of every dose by helping the medicine reach your lungs without trouble.

Take better care of your asthma. Stay on top of your condition with controller medications so you don’t use albuterol as often. Talk to your doctor about the best way to do this.

Change your dose. Also talk with them about how much albuterol you’re taking each time you need it. You may be able to get the same symptom relief with one puff instead of two.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Albuterol side effects: Can I avoid them?”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “What is drug addiction?” “Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?”

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice: “Albuterol Overuse: A Marker of Psychological Distress?”

American Lung Association: "Valved Holding Chambers and Spacers."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.