Inhalant abuse may be a lesser-known form of substance abuse, but consuming poisonous gases can create severe physical and mental health issues for the people who use them to get high.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 9.8 percent of adults ages 18-25 make up the largest group of inhalant users. There are strong indications from studies conducted on 10th-grade children that (6.1 percent) commonly experiment as well. By the time students reach eighth grade, one in five has already experimented with inhalants.
Inhalants include solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrates, among other substances. While abuse of these substances is low among the general population, there are no groups in particular that can be labeled as inhalant abusers.
There are no geographical types or boundaries associated with its use. However, studies have shown that children from lower socioeconomic classes of society are more at risk to experiment with inhalants. Internationally, however, abuse is shown to be high among homeless children in developing countries.
The most commonly used inhalant is amyl nitrite and fluorinated hydrocarbons, which are referred to as “whippets” or “poppers.” These products are easily purchased at local tobacco stores and are marketed as gases to recharge whipped cream cans. The reality is obtaining inhalants is an easy task for someone with a desire to use. Fortunately, there have been precautions put in place for those who use volatile solvents like paint and paint thinner.
Large businesses that sell paint products have done more to improve their security for purchasing products such as paints and paint thinner. They have done this by adding purchase limits, and adding gates around these products to deter theft. While they are modest improvements, the bigger picture is that it demonstrates awareness of this problem.
Inhalants are easily accessible within your home and at stores you may frequent. The fact that they are is one reason it can be difficult for someone with this type of addiction to cease use, but the long-term damage that can be associated with your body should not be taken lightly. Inhaling toxic gases is not only detrimental to your physical health but your mental and psychological health as well.
Inhalants are a broad term that can include intoxicants and other substances. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, inhalant use is “the intentional breathing of gas or vapors with the purpose of achieving a high.” Inhalants are found in everyday household products that serve a legitimate purpose, but they can easily be misused. The most commonly known products are paint and glue, but there are thousands of products that can pose a threat when inhaled.
Inhalant chemicals and gases produce psychoactive and mind-altering effects, causing unwanted side effects, including belligerence, apathy, impaired functioning, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness. With such a strong high associated, it makes the simplest of tasks, such as walking, hazardous.
A leading cause of death from inhalant use is the trauma occurs after falls that take place immediately after the poisonous substances are ingested. Death can be the result after using due to falls resulting from loss of consciousness, seizure, and sudden sniffing death.
Common inhalants include, but are not limited to:
Paint thinner is a solvent commonly used to thin oil-based paints and clean up after use. These are widely considered to be “mineral spirits.”
Nitrites dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. These are widely abused as sexual enhancers classifying these in a different class of inhalants. The street name for nitrites is known as “poppers” or “snappers.” Nitrites were once prescribed by physicians to treat heart pain, but they are now prohibited by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Gases such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) that is commonly used in the dentist office can be abused. Other gases such as ether, chloroform, and butane lighters are also known as inhalants.
Users get an instant rush when using inhalants that results in euphoria. These effects act on the central nervous system. Once the substance is inhaled, many regions in the brain are being targeted. Due to the nature of this, a chemical can be a stimulant in nature but actually act as a depressant upon completion of the high.
The effects are short-lived, and because of that, it requires the person to continually inhale to achieve the same results. This causes dizziness and putting the user in a haze. As mentioned in a previous section, serious health implications are associated when your motor skills are affected dramatically. Continued use can make the user become aggressive and hallucinate, putting not just themselves at risk, but anyone that may encounter them in this state.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “a number of commonly abused volatile solvent anesthetic gases have neurobehavioral effects and mechanisms of action similar to those produced by CNS depressants, which include alcohol and medications such as sedatives and anesthetics.”
Inhalants, like nearly all other drugs, show activation of dopamine which is the bodies natural pleasure center.
Unfortunately, the debilitating and potentially lethal side effects of inhalants can occur after just a single use. Brain damage has been associated with long-term use, but when an individual seeks help, they can severely reduce the amount of damage done to their bodies.
The effects of regular, chronic inhalant abuse can range from moderate to severe. Due to the short high that is produced, a user will continue to take larger and larger doses to achieve the same outcome, which could result in death. Some of the effects include:
Early detection is the key to saving someone’s life. If you or anyone you know is showing signs of these behaviors, it is imperative that you seek professional addiction help and treatment to prevent any further psychological or physical damage. Letting an addiction go unchecked is taking a deadly risk.
While there is no cure for inhalant addiction, professional addiction treatment allows the user an opportunity to learn tools for a successful recovery and manage triggers. Users will feel the urge to return to inhalant use, but treatment will help restore confidence in the user, giving them the peace of mind to fight this addiction.
While inhalant abuse is less common, only specialized substance abuse treatment centers are equipped to deal with the complexity of problems that inhalant abusers present. Due to the various types of damage caused, it has been suggested that a chronic user should have a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency, as well as mental illness according to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.
A thorough examination upon entry to the facility will be required if there is suspected inhalant use. Medical complications must be discussed with the client to address damage possibly sustained, such as central nervous system damage, kidney and liver irregularity, lead poisoning, heart and lung distress, and nutritional issues.
Upon completion of this process, inhalant users will be taught about how these chemicals are stored in fatty tissues within the body, and they will experience residual problems attributed to their use for a period during sobriety. Because of this, users could spend a longer time in rehab.
The client, at this point, will be working with a counselor to create a customized treatment plan that involves therapy, support groups, and additional counseling to create confidence and initiate a new outlook on life.
Inhalants are among the most dangerous drugs of abuse, considering how accessible they are to young people that are curious about achieving a euphoric high. Inhalants are a wide category that includes several subcategories and dozens of individual products.
Because of that, it’s difficult to predict how each person is going to react to each chemical. Inhaling compressed or volatile substances that aren’t meant for human consumption is inherently dangerous. Chemicals can be toxic when they get into your body and enter your brain, but inhalants can be dangerous in other ways as well.
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Butane is among the more dangerous chemicals to inhale. It can cause drowsiness, unconsciousness, asphyxiation, and heart arrhythmias. It has also been known to cause something called sudden sniffing death syndrome. Compressed gasses come out very cold when they’re sprayed. Butane, in particular, comes out in a jet of fluid that’s negative four degrees Fahrenheit. When something that cold hits your throat quickly, it can cause a condition called laryngospasms, which is when the muscles of your vocal folds contract rapidly. This can cause asphyxiation or choking that leads to death.
Inhalants can also cause sudden death because of cardiac arrest. Certain inhalants seem to sensitize users to adrenaline. If someone under the influence of an inhalant experiences a sudden shock, the surge of adrenaline can cause a heart attack.
In the United Kingdom, where butane is the most commonly abused inhalant, the drug cause 52 percent of the solvent-related deaths on its own in 2000.
Alliance for Consumer Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.consumered.org/learn/inhalant-abuse/statistics
Harris, D., & Mirza, Z. (2005, September 1). Butane encephalopathy. Retrieved from https://emj.bmj.com/content/22/9/676
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, July). What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-are-other-medical-consequences-inhalant-abuse
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Inhalants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/inhalants
National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) (n.d.). ABOUT INHALANTS. Retrieved from http://www.inhalants.org/about.htm