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What is the Scope of Abuse on Inhalant Drugs?

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 develope 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
  • Inattentiveness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability
  • Depression

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

Get Help Now, it is Never Too Late

If someone you love is abusing inhalants, it is very important to let them know of the dangers of doing so. 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.

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