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Article Summary

A Guide To Inhalant Addiction

Although the abuse of inhalants is not as widespread as that of other drugs, it also has the same potential for addiction. This may because those who use these substances regularly or over a long period may develop psychological and physical dependence.

More specifically, if you get to a point where you are unable to control your use of these substances while seeing the negative health effects and consequences such use wrecks in your life, you would be said to be addicted. At this point, you may be unable to stop abusing inhalants even though you might have an overwhelming desire to do so.

In many cases, you need treatment either at an inpatient or outpatient facility to quit. After all, the ready availability of these substances in stores and at home, offices, and school might make it difficult for you to quit on your own.

In this guide, you will find more information about inhalants, what they are, how they are used, as well as their incidence of addiction, effects, withdrawal symptoms, dangers, and more:

Understanding Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile and sometimes flammable substances that tend to vaporize when exposed to the air or at room temperature. These substances produce mind-altering albeit short lived effects that might be similar to the effects of alcohol use.

Since they produce chemical vapors that cause intoxication, some people abuse them to achieve a high. They include nitrites, gases, aerosol sprays, solvents, gasoline, spray paint, lighter fluid, and shoe polish.

That said, inhalant is a broad term that covers a wide variety of anesthetics and chemicals categorized in one group because they are administered in the same way: through inhalation. Users also refer to them as hippie crack, huff, laughing gas, and whippets.

Inhalant abuse, on the other hand, includes using anesthetics, gases, and household solvents (anything from gasoline to cleaning products) for any other purpose than that they were made for.

Anesthetics, on the other hand, include gases that people use medicinally for the reduction of pain sensitivity. Chloroform and nitrous oxide, for instance, are well-known anesthetics. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a common medication in many dentist offices. However, it is available in whipped cream cans, which is how many users get to it.

Another popular inhalant, amyl nitrite is used medically to increase the flow of blood among those suffering heart disease. This drug may act as a muscle relaxant and create effects that are different from the other inhalants, which is why it is sometimes classified differently.

That said, the most commonly abused inhalants include:

a) Solvents

Solvents are household and industrial products such as:

  • Dry-cleaning fluids
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Paint removers
  • Paint thinners
b) Office/Art Supply Solvents
  • Correction fluids
  • Electronic contact cleaners
  • Felt-tip marker fluid
  • Glue
c) Aerosols
  • Aerosol computer cleaning products
  • Deodorant or hair sprays
  • Spray paints
  • Vegetable oil sprays
d) Gases

Gases are commonly found in commercial and household products and may include:

  • Butane lighters
  • Propane tanks
e) Whippets

These include whipped cream aerosols or dispensers and are used as anesthesia before surgical procedures:

  • Ether
  • Chloroform
  • Nitrous oxide
f) Nitrites

Nitrites include:

  • Leather cleaners
  • Liquid aroma
  • Room odorizers
  • Video head cleaners

Even the effects of most inhalants last for a couple of minutes, most users will try to make them last longer by repeatedly inhaling them over several hours. This increases the risk of these substances.

Inhalant Uses

Inhalants are manufactured to serve specific purposes, such as cleaning or anesthesia. However, some people abuse them for the intoxicating effects they produce. They do so in a variety of ways, including snorting or sniffing the fumes from glue bottles, spraying aerosols into the mouth or nose, or inhaling balloons that contain nitrous oxide.

Another form of abuse is bagging, which involves covering one's head with a bag filled with fumes before inhaling the chemicals. Needless to say, this is one of the most dangerous methods of inhalation because it might cause asphyxiation or suffocation.

Huffing, on the other hand, involves smelling a rag soaked in inhalant chemicals. Users hold the rag close to the face (or insert it directly into the mouth) before inhaling the chemicals to get high.

Huffing is dangerous because it may slow down your bodily function. However, people still use this method because it creates a short albeit intense buzz that tends to last anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. The chemical toxins so inhaled will be absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream before spreading out into other organs, such as the brain.

In most cases, even one huffing experience might snowball into a long term habit that will escalate beyond your control.

Inhalant Effects

Inhaling these substances creates effects that are similar to alcohol intoxication, including impaired motor function and judgment. However, inhalants are unlike alcohol in the sense that they may create temporary hallucinations. Other effects from abusing these chemicals include but are not limited to:

  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • Excitability
  • Lightheadedness
  • Limited reflexes
  • Loss of self-control

On the other hand, abusing inhalants over the long term can cause the following health consequences:

  • Brain damage
  • Changes in personality
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Loss of hearing
  • Loss of vision
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Respiratory damage

Inhalant Side Effects

Inhalants, particularly those that contain mind-altering chemicals, are dangerous when abused. They often affect the CNS (central nervous system) and may slow down the activity in your brain.

After the initial head rush, you are also highly likely to feel agitated, lightheaded, and drowsy. The other typical side effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of self-control
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Suffocation
  • Vomiting

Additionally, abusing these chemicals repeatedly is likely to have adverse consequences on your long term mental and physical health. These side effects are quite severe and might even prove to be life-threatening. This is because the chemicals might lead to a build-up of the fatty tissue in and surrounding major body organs, such as the heart.

Inhalant Addictive Qualities

Inhalants are highly addictive. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) about 10% of all people who use these chemicals eventually become tolerant to them and eventually start using more to achieve the same desired effects.

If you try to stop abusing these chemicals, you may also suffer adverse withdrawal symptoms - another sign that you are addicted to a foreign substance. At this point, you may continue abusing them to postpone these symptoms and to achieve intoxication.

Unlike other drugs, inhalants are both psychologically and physically addictive. As an user, you may feel the urge to continue using them, especially after prolonged usage over several days.

According to DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders), every inhalant has a potential for abuse, tolerance, and dependence. Although it is relatively uncommon, inhalant addiction might also accompany these consequences.

In most cases, inhalants are like any other addictive substance in the sense that they affect the brain's reward system. Repeatedly abusing them, therefore, may rewire your brain. Over time, you might even start experimenting with other drugs.

Inhalant Overdose

In the same way, inhalant abuse might lead to an overdose. This will occur when you use too much and your body has a toxic reaction resulting in harmful and serious symptoms.

Among the symptoms of inhalant overdose are coma and seizures, which might prove to be fatal. You should also note that many aerosol sprays and solvents are highly concentrated. This means that they contain a large volume of chemicals with several active ingredients.

If you sniff any of these products, therefore, your heart may stop after a few minutes. This condition is often referred to as sudden sniffing death and might happen even to otherwise healthy young people the very first time they abuse inhalants.

Since such overdose is highly likely to cause your heart to stop or lead to seizures, it is imperative that you call emergency medical services the moment you suspect an overdose. Emergency room doctors and first responders will treat these conditions to restart the heart or stop the seizure.

Inhalant Withdrawal

Although the risk of becoming physically dependent on inhalants is relatively low compared to that of other drugs, many users develop psychological addiction. At this point, if you decide to stop abusing these substances, your body will go through withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms that will arise will just be your body responding to a state in which it lacks the substance it has become dependent upon.

Added to the above, inhalants are CNS depressants. This means that abusing them can suppress your physiological functions. If you quit using these drugs, those functions that were suppressed will become overactive, leading to a variety of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Convulsions
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Hand tremors
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Runny eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Inhalant Dangers

Since the effects arising from inhalant abuse are short lived, many people incorrectly assume that the chemicals are not dangerous. However, the truth is that inhalants are dangerous and may cause respiratory distress and heart failure, often leading to fatal overdose (even if it is your first time using them).

On the other hand, such abuse may cause severe physiological side effects - especially after heavy and long term abuse. For instance, abusing the toluene (a chemical used to dissolve paint) chronically has been known to produce neurological symptoms that resemble multiple sclerosis, a condition that affects the spinal cord and brain.

Other side effects from inhalants include Parkinsonism (a condition related closely to Parkinson's disease) and brain degeneration). Although some of these effects may not be permanent (and can be reversed by discontinuing your abuse), others are irreversible.

Abusing inhalants has also been linked to psychoactive effects, such as hallucinations, dizziness, diminished motor skills, increased gregariousness, and slurred speech - which are all dangerous such as when you are driving or operating heavy machinery.

Last but not least, inhalants may cause sudden death because they often lead to:

  • Accidents
  • Choking on vomit
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Injury
  • Lung damage
  • Psychological problems
  • Respiratory depression
  • Risks to unborn children
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Skin problems
  • Suffocation

Signs And Symptoms Of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant use and abuse is usually hard to detect because it causes short-lived effects. However, there are some signs and symptoms that you may notice which would lead you to suspect that the subject has been abusing these substances. These include:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Appearing drunk and intoxicated
  • Blackouts
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the kidneys, liver, and brain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Facial rash, on the spots where the substance blistered the skin
  • Hallucinations
  • Injury to the lungs, mouth, and throat
  • Jerky reactions
  • Limb spasms
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of hearing
  • Loss of motor control
  • Mild highs
  • Nausea
  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Stains or paint on face or clothing
  • Suffocation
  • Unusual smelling breath
  • Vision damage
  • Vomiting
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Altered perception of reality
  • Confusion
  • Mood disorders
  • Paranoia
  • Personality changes
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Alienation from informal and social functions
  • Continued use in spite of the persistent problems the substances cause
  • Division within the family
  • Giving up hobbies and recreational activities to use the substances
  • Isolation from friends and loved ones
  • Strong urges and cravings to look for and use inhalants

Treatment For Inhalant Addiction

Finding treatment for inhalant dependence and addiction might prove to be difficult because most addiction treatment facilities lack the equipment, knowledge, or expertise to handle the problems related to inhalants.

However, there are specialized treatment plans that you can fall back on to overcome your addiction. Generally, you need to seek treatment immediately after you suspect that you are becoming addicted to these substances.

In most cases, you will receive treatment for any complications related to inhalant abuse. After that, you will undergo therapy to empower you to understand the dangers of this type of abuse, as well as the reasons why you have been taking inhalants.

After your recovery, you may be released into society, particularly if you were undergoing inpatient rehabilitation. However, you should continue attending relapse prevention support groups and programs to keep away from situations and people that might tempt you to start using again.

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