Inhalants are a dangerous category of drugs that can cause serious health problems. Inhalant addiction is a much wider ranging problem than most people realize. It is particularly common among teenagers. In fact, according to statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 2 million Americans have used inhalants at some point in their lifetimes.
Shockingly, more than eight percent of eighth graders have tried using inhalants in the past year. These numbers mean that many people need to seek treatment for inhalant addictions. If you or someone you love suffer from an addiction to inhalants, keep reading to discover everything you need to know about this scary class of drugs and how people can recover from them.
The Definition of Inhalants
Most people are unaware of just how many things fall under the category of an inhalant. Put simply, inhalants are chemical vapors or gases that will cause mind-altering (psychoactive) effects when they are breathed in. The psychoactive effects of inhalants are what draw users in. There are many categories of inhalants that abusers make use of.
The many different kinds of inhalants include the following:
- Solvents, including things like gas, kerosene, paint thinner, markers, correction fluids, household cleaners and paint
- Gases and propellants, including propellant gases used in products like spray deodorants, lighters, propane, spray paint, refrigerants, room deodorizers and hairsprays
- Medical gases like nitrous oxide (also used as a form of propellant in whipped cream cans), ether, halothane and chloroform
- Volatile Nitrites
- Aliphatic Nitrites, which includes things like room fragrance products and liquid incense
Treating Inhalant Addiction
With so many different types of inhalants easily available to abusers, it is little wonder that so many people get addicted to them. Because inhalants are found everywhere users turn, it is nearly impossible for people addicted to inhalants to get clean on their own. The temptation is simply too great when all they have to do is open up a drawer in their house to find something to get their fix. Therefore, the best way for someone with an inhalant addiction to get clean is to enter into an inpatient recovery program.
Inhalant drugs are the first option of abuse for young children who use drugs. It isn’t only young children and adolescents that abuse inhalants but it is more common than not for that to be the case. The abuse of inhalants can consist of many household products that people do not typically think of as drugs because they are never intended for that purpose. Items of abuse can range from spray paints, markers, glues and cleaning products. With inhalants being so easy to access for abuse, it becomes a major problem. It is hard to regulate products that could be abused.
Abusers of inhalants can come up with many ways to use inhalants. The abuse of different products could depend on age as well. People tend to abuse different inhalant products at different ages. New users ages 12–15 most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid. New users ages 16–17 most commonly abuse nitrous oxide or “whippets.” Adults most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites (such as amyl nitrites or “poppers”).
Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or the mouth in a variety of ways, such as:
- “Sniffing” or “snorting” fumes from containers
- “Spraying” aerosols directly into the nose or mouth
- “Bagging” sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or deposited inside a plastic or paper bag
- “Huffing” from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth
- “Inhaling” from balloons filled with nitrous oxide
Effects of Inhalants
The immediate affect abusers get from inhalants can be like the affects from consuming alcohol. Slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. Inhalant abusers may also experience light-headedness, hallucinations, and delusions. With repeated inhalations, many users feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.
The effect that abusers get when using inhalants only lasts a few minutes, which cause them to repeatedly inhale over the course of hours, which is very dangerous. When abusing inhalants so excessively a person can lose consciousness and possibly die. At the least, they will feel less inhibited and less in control. After heavy use of inhalants, abusers may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.
Developing an addiction to inhalants is not common, but can occur with repeated abuse. When a person begins to do something more and more regular it can develop as a habit, and when the body becomes used to that habit it can crave it more and may develop into an addiction will be developed. Early identification and intervention are the best ways to stop inhalant abuse before it causes serious health consequences.
Parents, educators, family physicians, and other health care practitioners should be alert to the following signs:
- Chemical odors on breath or clothing
- Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes
- Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
- Drunk or disoriented appearance
- Slurred speech
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Lack of coordination
A strong need to continue using inhalants has been reported by many individuals, particularly those who have abused inhalants for prolonged periods over many days. Compulsive use and a mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse.
Hazards of Chemicals Found in Commonly Abused Inhalants
- Amyl Nitrite (“Poppers”) , Butyl Nitrite (“Video Head Cleaner”)
Sudden sniffing death syndrome, suppressed immunologic function, injury to red blood cells (interfering with oxygen supply to vital tissues
- Benzene (found in gasoline)
Bone marrow injury, impaired immunologic function, increased risk of leukemia, reproductive system toxicity
- Butane, Propane (found in lighter fluid, hair and paint sprays)
Sudden sniffing death syndrome via cardiac effects, serious burn injuries (because of flammability)
- Freon (used as a refrigerant and aerosol propellant)
Sudden sniffing death syndrome, respiratory obstruction and death (from sudden cooling/cold injury to airways), liver damage
- Methylene Chloride (found in paint thinners and removers, degreasers)
Reduction of oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, changes to the heart muscle and heartbeat
- Nitrous Oxide (“Laughing Gas”), Hexane
Death from lack of oxygen to the brain, altered perception and motor coordination, loss of sensation, limb spasms, blackouts caused by blood pressure changes, depression of heart muscle functioning
- Toluene (found in gasoline, paint thinners and removers, correction fluid)
Brain damage (loss of brain tissue mass, impaired cognition, gait disturbance, loss of coordination, loss of equilibrium, limb spasms, hearing and vision loss), liver and kidney damage
- Trichloroethylene (found in spot removers, degreasers)
Sudden sniffing death syndrome, cirrhosis of the liver, reproductive complications, hearing and vision damage
A Race Against Time
When it comes to seeking help for inhalant addiction, time is of the essence. This is because of the severe physical damage that occurs in inhalant users. The short-term effects of inhalant use include slurred speech, cognitive distortion, loss of coordination, disorientation, confusion, lightheadedness, nausea and dizziness.
While these short-term effects are unpleasant, it is the long-term effects of inhalant abuse that are truly terrifying. Inhalant addicts who abuse these substances over the course of years can suffer severe damage to major organs in their bodies. This damage includes liver damage, kidney damage and brain damage. Inhalant addicts can suffer from seizures, spasms, memory loss, hearing damage and vision problems. The key to avoiding these serious health problems is for inhalant abusers to get into treatment as soon as possible. There are many benefits to an inpatient treatment program that will give inhalant addicts the best chance of beating their addictions.
One of the best things about getting into an inpatient treatment program for inhalant addiction is that it gives abusers a supportive environment to help them get clean. There is nothing more powerful in recovery than being surrounded by people who suffer from the same affliction and know how difficult it is to beat it. Feeling the warmth and support of fellow sufferers is an invaluable asset in the fight to recover from inhalant addiction.
Another benefit of entering into an inpatient treatment program for an addiction to inhalants is the counseling that patients will receive. Not only will they receive counseling in a group setting with their fellow addicts, but they will also receive the assistance of a professional drug abuse counselor. The support of an expert in drug abuse is a huge advantage when trying to beat an inhalant addiction. Being able to turn to others for counseling is a great comfort, and it can help inhalant addicts fight through the bad days when the urge to abuse inhalants can feel overwhelming.
Get Help Now, it is Never Too Late
Inhalants can become very harmful to the brain and other organs in the body after even a short period of time abusing them. Chronic exposure can produce significant damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Although some inhalant-induced damage to the nervous and other organ systems may be at least partially reversible when inhalant abuse is stopped, many syndromes caused by repeated or prolonged abuse are irreversible. It is important to seek help right away if you feel yourself or a loved one is developing and addiction or just enjoys abusing inhalants. It is a very dangerous thing to play around with.
If you or someone you know suffer from an inhalant addiction, there is help available. Trying to beat an addiction of this type on your own will prove nearly impossible for the vast majority of abusers. The key to beating an addiction to inhalants is to seek the help of an inpatient recovery program. Entering into this warm, supportive environment will give abusers all the tools they need to beat their addictions and stay clean.