The Abuse of Inhalants

Inhalant abuse (a.k.a. volatile substance abuse, solvent abuse, huffing, sniffing, bagging) occurs when you intentionally inhale a volatile substance so you can achieve an altered mental state.

Typically, it’s teens and preteens who abuse them because they’re inexpensive, legally available, easy to obtain, and you can rapidly achieve euphoria. Youth in this age group struggle to get other drugs (e.g., alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications), but they don’t realize what they’re getting into. Inhalant abuse, in particular nitrous oxide, has also been rising among adult populations and gaining traction in pop culture and social media communities.

What is Inhalant Abuse?

You can abuse almost any aerosol or liquid solvent. There aren’t any chemical precursors for inhalant drugs, but when volatile solvents are in the workplace and easily accessible many teens make use of them. Some of the most common occupations associated with inhalant abuse are restaurant and construction workers because chemicals are easily obtained here. The most commonly abused inhalants include:

  • Gasoline
  • Oven cleaner
  • Rubber cement
  • Model glue
  • Nail polish remover
  • Spray paint
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Paint thinner
  • Correction fluid (e.g., Liquid Paper)

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What are Considered Inhalant Drugs?

Inhalants are various dangerous and addictive substances. There are many subclasses of inhalant drugs. These include:

  • Volatile solvents are chemicals that become vaporous or gaseous when they reach room temperature (e.g., glue, dry-cleaning fluid, lighter fluid, paint thinner, felt-tip markers).
  • Aerosols form liquid droplets when they hit the air (e.g., cooking spray, spray deodorant, hair spray, insect repellent).
  • Gasses are the most abused and among the most dangerous inhalants (e.g., nitrous oxide, empty whipped cream canisters, refrigerator canisters, propane tanks, lighters).
  • Nitrites are typically used in curing meat or treating medical conditions (e.g., isoamyl nitrite, cyclohexyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite).

While some inhalants have medicinal uses, many are legal household substances. These intoxicating chemicals are abused because they can provide a temporary high. This is also why nitrous oxide popularity is on the rise.

Abuse of Inhalants

How are Inhalants Used?

Previously we’ve mentioned the role of inhalants in youth cultures. What people don’t understand is that casual exposure to inhalant drugs is just as dangerous as abusing them routinely. This is because of how inhalants are used.

Inhalant abuse (a.k.a., huffing) occurs when you breathe a chemical into your lungs. This is typically done by spraying them into your nose or by soaking a cloth in the inhalant and then holding it up to your face. However, there are a few other ways huffing is done, including:

  • Sniffing or snorting the chemicals directly from the container
  • Soaking the inhalant in a bag then inhaling the fumes (a.k.a., bagging)
  • Spraying the inhalant directly into your nose or mouth (a.k.a., spraying)
  • Putting the inhalant in a balloon then inhaling it through your mouth (a.k.a., inhaling)

What are the Risk Factors for Inhalant Abuse?

There are many risk factors associated with inhalant abuse. These short-term effects include:

  • Changes in blood pressure that can result in blackouts
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Delusions
  • Numbness
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Drowsiness

When you continue abusing inhalants the risk factors increase. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Poor judgment

It’s important to understand that the impact of these effects depends on which type of inhalant you’ve abused.

Are Inhalants Dangerous?

Although inhalants seem harmless, they’re very risky. Many people die from this addiction every year. One of the main reasons for this is how quickly they affect your body. Their effects occur within seconds and last for a few minutes so many people will abuse them again right away. However, the way they affect all the major organs in your body makes them very dangerous.

Potential Damage to the Body from Inhalant Abuse

When you abuse inhalants over a period they start accumulating in your body and your brain so they can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on your well-being. These long-term effects include damage to your kidneys and heart, muscle weakness, impaired thinking, damage to your red blood cells, and nerve damage resulting in chronic pain. However, the way inhalants affect your brain is the worst of all these effects.

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Issues with Your Brain

Inhalant abuse can cause direct damage to your brain’s nerve cells. When this happens your brain’s nerves have a difficult time communicating. This results in muscle spasms, speech problems, and poor motor coordination.

They can also cause a condition known as hypoxia in your brain since it’s been denied oxygen. This impairment can make the part of the brain that’s impacted unable to function properly again.

Whether these issues are permanent or not depends on how long you’ve abused inhalants and how much of them you’ve abused.

Other Issues

There are also a lot of effects that depend on which type of inhalants you’ve used. For instance, if you’ve abused nitrites, you may have damaged your red blood cells, but if you abused benzenes you may have reproductive issues, a higher likelihood of developing cancer and they also lower your immune system. On the other hand, if you abuse trichloroethylene you may develop liver disease, trigger hearing, and vision loss, and cause reproductive issues.

Can Huffing Cause Brain Damage?

While the high only lasts a few minutes the damage can last forever. Inhalants place you at immediate risk for brain damage and bodily harm. This is because they interact with the chemicals in your brain which are responsible for making you feel a certain way. Even prescription medications for mood regulation, insomnia, and pain management can seriously impact you in these ways if you misuse them.

Not only do inhalants make you high they also cause mind-altering effects resulting in you acting in atypical ways. When this happens, you’re at a greater risk of getting hurt or making bad decisions – both of which can have lasting consequences.

If you become addicted to inhalants, they’ll start negatively impacting your entire body. This occurs in your brain where the chemical messages that are being sent throughout your central nervous system to tell your body how to react are interrupted. With inhalant addiction the way your brain works may be permanently changed. This is because your brain learns to tolerate the drug and eventually it’ll come to depend on it. Without the use of inhalants, you’ll feel flat, sad, and numb.

Once your brain is physically dependent on inhalants, you’ll experience an intense craving for it when the high wears off. You’ll physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms if you choose to get clean. Unfortunately, just because you’ve chosen to get clean doesn’t mean that the impact on your brain is reversible. Some effects aren’t reversible.

Can Huffing Cause Brain Damage

Can you get Addicted to Inhalants?

You can become both physically and psychologically addicted to inhalants. Those who are addicted to them say that they have a strong craving to continue using them, especially if they’ve used them continually for a period. This type of use can also result in tolerance which means you’ll face withdrawal symptoms when you detox.

What are the Signs of Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalants are central nervous system (CNS) depressants which is why signs of abuse are similar to those you’d have with alcohol or opioids. The main difference is that inhalants can cause hallucinations similar to those you’d experience with cocaine. Some of the other signs include:

  • A chemical smell on skin or breath
  • Stains on hands or face
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Exhaustion – nodding off
  • Lightheadedness
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash around the nose or mouth

Can you Overdose from an Inhalant Drug?

It’s easy for someone to overdose from inhalants, even if it’s their first time using them. This is because most inhalants contain numerous chemicals. These are responsible for making your heartbeat irregular and even causing it to stop only moments after abusing the inhalant. In the medical field, this is referred to as “sudden sniffing death.” It’s more likely to happen when you’re physically active right after inhalation.

There are other deadly effects that inhalants can have, including:

  • Asphyxiation occurs when you rapidly and repeatedly abuse inhalants. This is because you fill your lungs to the point there isn’t any room for oxygen.
  • Suffocation occurs when you place a plastic bag over your head while inhaling the chemical. Unfortunately, the bag may prevent air from entering your lungs.
  • Choking can be the result of vomiting if the vomit is inhaled into your lungs.
  • Deadly injuries may occur due to poor judgment and lack of coordination. This results in a variety of injuries – some of which may be fatal.
  • Convulsions and seizures occur because inhalants cause improper electrical firing in your brain.
  • Comas happen when you take too much of the inhalant and your brain shuts down and only your body’s important functions continue.

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How to Treat Inhalant Overdoses

If you believe that someone has overdosed on inhalants, it’s important to act quickly so that they aren’t seriously injured and don’t die. You should take the following steps:

  • The person who’s overdosed may have contaminated their clothing or skin. So, it’s important to decontaminate them and the area they’re in. Doing so will help you avoid an inadvertent continuous cycle.
  • Take time to stabilize any cardiovascular issues including low blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. This is where medical attention is necessary since they’ll have medications available to help with these issues.
  • Consider whether there’s been any organ damage. Even though the person has survived the overdose their organs may still be damaged. Therefore medical professionals will check on their kidneys, liver, and heart. If there are any issues, treatment will also be provided.

Inhalant overdoses aren’t only dangerous, they’re also uncomfortable. Therefore, throughout this time, it’s important to keep the person comfortable until medical personnel are available.

Detox for Inhalant Abuse

Do I Need Detox for Inhalant Abuse?

When you detox from inhalants you should do so in a controlled setting such as our facility at Icarus Behavioral Health, where you have plenty of medical support available to you. This is important because you’ll need to be monitored for heart and neurological issues, especially if you’ve used nitrites or nitrous oxide for an extended period.

Withdrawal from inhalants can last over a month. Unfortunately, even after you get clean you still face a high risk of relapse. While getting clean you may face some of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Physical agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid pulse
  • Vomiting
  • Hand tremors
  • Seizures

Icarus Behavioral Health is a Top Inhalant Treatment Facility

When you want to get sober the best way to do it is to seek professional treatment. As someone who’s abused inhalants, you’ll need special care, such as that available at Icarus Behavioral.

Effective treatment depends on your individual goals, strengths, support system, and where you live. It should always start with getting a complete medical and psychological assessment.

Inhalant treatment is a multi-step process that includes

  • Detox to rid your body of these harmful toxins. This should be medically supervised to minimize any potential physical or mental health complications.
  • Inpatient treatment where you live at a facility for up to 90 days is important. There you’ll have continual medical supervision. They’re especially important if your home environment tends to trigger you or if you don’t have a support system in place.
  • Outpatient treatment (e.g., partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs, standard outpatient programs) provides you with less care as you live at home, attend work or school, and take care of your other responsibilities while receiving treatment.

Regardless of the treatment environment, you’ll receive several types of behavioral therapy, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you understand how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors led to your inhalant addiction. You’ll also learn how to identify, avoid, and manage any of these triggers in the future.
  • Motivational incentives (a.k.a. contingency management, CM) offer rewards such as vouchers when you achieve certain goals that you set for yourself on your way to recovery.
  • Group therapy and support groups offer opportunities to continue learning and practicing the tools you learned while in treatment. These typically aren’t recommended for adolescents because those in the group may unknowingly reinforce the benefits of inhalant abuse with one another.

While inhalant abuse may seem trivial or not worth treating in a rehab, it can be fatal. Don’t let the fact that these chemicals are commonplace and only create a short high fool you. Seeking professional help can make all the difference in stopping this addiction, once and for all.

Doing so might just save your life. Please reach out to our expert team at Icarus Behavioral Health for more information and resources if you’re struggling, the time to get help is now!