The Definition of an Inhalant
Inhalants are substances that cause mind-altering or psychoactive effects when inhaled. While other recreational drugs can be inhaled, inhalant abuse refers to substances that are only inhaled, never taken by any other means. Inhalants typically have another purpose and are intentionally misused by the abuser.
Types of Inhalants
There are 4 main categories of inhalants:
- Paint thinners or removers
- Dry cleaning fluids
- Lighter fluid
- Correction fluid
- Felt-tip marker fluid
- Electronic contact cleaners
- Deodorant or hair spray
- Spray paint
- Aerosol computer cleaning products
- Vegetable oil sprays
- Butane lighters
- Propane tanks
- Whipped cream aerosols
- Nitrous oxide
- Video head cleaner
- Room odorizer
- Leather cleaner
- Liquid aroma
Many of these products are readily available for purchase, making it challenging to control inhalant abuse. Because they are so easy to obtain, inhalants are the only type of drug abused more by younger people than older adults.
What is Inhalant Abuse?
As the name suggests, inhalants are inhaled through either the nose or mouth (“huffing“).
Different types are inhaled by different methods, such as:
- Sniffing or snorting fumes directly from the container
- Inhaling fumes from a rag soaked in the substance
- Spraying aerosol directly into the mouth or nose
- “Bagging” — inhaling fumes sprayed into a bag
- Inhaling nitrous oxide from a filled balloon
However the inhalant enters the body, it produces a short-lived high that may last only a few minutes. To prolong the high, users may inhale again and again over the course of several hours.
How Do Inhalants Affect the Body?
Inhalants mainly affect the brain and central nervous system as depressants, causing effects similar to alcohol use. In addition to the high, users may experience:
- Loss of inhibition
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Hallucinations or delusions
The nervous system is not the only part of the body affected by inhalants. Side effects include vomiting, headache, and feeling light-headed.
Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse
Over time, inhalant abuse has a negative impact on the entire body. The inhaled chemicals can reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen, depriving tissues of oxygen. Some of the chemicals can also directly damage and kill nerve and brain cells.
Brain damage in long-term users can lead to:
- Learning disabilities
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Damage to sight and hearing
These chemicals can also damage other organs, causing:
- Liver and kidney damage
- Bone marrow damage
- Muscle wasting
- Lung damage
The greatest risk of inhalant abuse is death. All inhalants can cause a change in the heart’s rhythm known as sudden sniffing death syndrome. Overdose can also cause potentially deadly seizures.
Treatment for Inhalant Addiction
While inhalant addiction is a challenge, it can be overcome. It is especially important to get in recovery before the body suffers from permanent damage.
A person who stops using inhalants may suffer symptoms of withdrawal, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Mood changes
- Difficulty sleeping
Inhalant recovery is especially challenging because inhalants are so readily available — the user can be easily tempted at home. Inpatient rehab is a great choice for someone struggling with inhalant addiction. Living in a truly clean environment removes any temptation to use inhalants during the early stages of recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the patient to recognize when they are most likely to use inhalants, and how to cope with or avoid these situations in the future. Many people do better with the support of both staff and others in recovery. If you or someone you know struggles with addiction to inhalants or inhalant abuse, call our toll-free number for help.