Inhalant addiction & abuse

Therapy OptionsMany illicit drugs can be inhaled, from marijuana to methamphetamine to cocaine. While these drugs are dangerous, they are also largely illegal, expensive, and sometimes hard to obtain.

Easier to find and buy – often simply found around the average house – many common products can produce vapors that when inhaled have mind-altering, or psychoactive, effects. These products and their chemical vapors are called inhalants. They make up a dangerous class of drug that can be unpredictable with potentially hazardous consequences, sometimes from even a single use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 21.7 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried an inhalant at least once. These drugs may be particularly appealing to the younger generation. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of 2014 found that approximately 5.3 percent of 8th graders had abused inhalants in the year before the survey. These numbers seem to drop off as adolescents “age out” of inhalant abuse, as only around 1.9 percent of 12th graders abused them in the same year, as they perhaps moved on to other illicit substances. Inhalants are often considered “gateway” drugs, although this is hard to quantify with certainty. Abusers of inhalants often begin at a young age, as 58 percent of users start before the end of 9th grade, as published in Addiction Science and Clinical Practice.

Types of Inhalants and Methods of Abuse

Inhalants usually lie in four main categories that include a variety of household products. These categories and products include:

  • Aerosols: spray paint, spray vegetable oil, hair and deodorant sprays, computer cleaner, and fabric protector sprays
  • Solvents: lighter fluid, gasoline, paint thinner, nail polish, nail polish remover, glue, felt-tip marker fluid, correction fluid, rubber cement, and dry cleaning fluids
  • Nitrates: amyl nitrate “poppers” marketed as video head cleaner, room deodorizer, leather cleaner, or liquid aroma
  • Gases: found in butane lighters, refrigerators, propane tanks, aerosol whip cream cans called “whippets,” and medical anesthetics such as “laughing gas”

These substances are abused in several different ways, including by sniffing or snorting the fumes directly, pouring or spraying the fumes into a bag and then inhaling them (called “bagging”), spraying the aerosol fumes directly into the nose or mouth, soaking a rag in the substance and then “huffing” it, or inhaling nitrous oxide from a balloon. The “high” comes on rather quickly, and it is generally relatively short-lived.

Many inhalants dampen the central nervous system, comparable to how alcohol does, and the intoxication may mimic that of drunkenness, including symptoms like slurred speech, loss of coordination, slowed reflexes, dizziness, and feeling “high” or euphoric. Inhalants may also cause hallucinations and delusions as well as lightheaded feelings. Repetitive use can lead to poor impulse control and lowered inhibitions, which may incur potentially risky behaviors. Nitrates are different in that they dilate and relax blood vessels. They are primarily used as sexual enhancers and may be indicated by increased sexual desire and unsafe sexual practices. Some of the additional signs to watch for if you suspect inhalant abuse include:
  • Chemical smell on breath or clothing
  • Paint or other stains on fingers, clothing, or face
  • Painting fingernails with markers or correctional fluid
  • Hiding rags in laundry or around a room
  • Possessing multiple butane lighters even if the person don’t smoke
  • Red or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dazed appearance
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Multiple empty aerosol cans
  • Dilated pupils
  • Inability to focus
  • Fatigue or changes in sleep patterns
You may notice changes in personality or mood swings related to inhalant abuse that are out of character. Substance abuse may also lead to withdrawal from social situations, troubles with interpersonal relationships, and a lack of enjoyment or interest in activities that may have been previously enjoyed. Be aware that a drop in school or work performance may also be an indicator of substance abuse or dependence.
Repetitive abuse of inhalants may lead to a physical and psychological dependence or addiction. Many substances make chemical changes in the reward and motivation pathways in the brain, causing compulsive drug-seeking behavior, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, irritability, and depression when inhalants are not present. Addicts will spend most of their time thinking about how to obtain inhalants, using them, and then recovering from their effects. Inhalant abuse may start out as an experiment, due to peer pressure, or as an attempt to deal with another issue in one’s life. Abusing substances can provide a short-term escape from reality that may be craved. Inhalant abuse is often a precursor to abusing other harmful and illicit substances, starting young people down the path to a potential substance abuse disorder or addiction at a very young age. Per NIDA, abusing an inhalant even one time can be potentially life-threatening, causing heart failure via a syndrome called “sudden sniffing death.” Suffocation can also occur, especially if using a bag to inhale chemicals or abusing volatile inhalants in a poorly ventilated environment. When too many toxins are present in the bloodstream at once, an overdose can occur; this may be indicated by excessive sweating, rapid heart rate, nausea, physical tics and seizures, or a loss of consciousness, which can also be potentially fatal. A lack of oxygen to the brain may lead to permanent brain damage, hearing and vision loss, and troubles with coordination and long-term memory issues. Other side effects of chronic inhalant abuse may include damage to the liver and kidneys.

Treatment Options

The mean age of first-time abuse of inhalants for Americans is 13, as published by American Family Physician. As a result, education about the dangers of inhalant abuse should be the first recourse for prevention. Inhalant abuse should not be ignored, and if you do suspect abuse or an addiction, you should seek professional help.

The effects of inhalant abuse can usually be reversed with abstinence and healthier lifestyle choices. Psychotherapy and supportive treatment methods currently offer the best success rates for full recovery. Behavioral therapies can help to determine the root cause of the substance abuse and what environmental, emotional, or social stressors may exist within everyday life that act as triggers for self-destructive behaviors, like inhaling volatile substances. After discovering the triggers, new life skills and coping mechanisms are taught, which give the individual new strategies on how to manage stress as it applies in daily life. Self-destructive thought patterns and behaviors are identified and modified, and self-esteem and self-confidence are bolstered. Peer groups, and 12-step support groups, offer a safe haven where difficult emotions and similar circumstances are shared and understood.

The Recovery Village offers various levels of comprehensive care, catering to individual needs with compassion and confidentiality. Take the first step on a journey to a drug-free and healthy life today. Call now.

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Inhalant Addiction
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Inhalant Addiction was last modified: September 18th, 2017 by The Recovery Village