Inhalants Addiction and Abuse
Although not as common as many other drug addictions or alcoholism, inhalant addiction is still a serious problem that should be treated once identified.
This post addresses inhalant abuse, including its dangers, recognising the signs and treatment options. Do you tend to inhale substances for recreational purposes or do you know someone struggling with the problem? The following information can help you.
Inhalant Addiction and Abuse: What is it?
As illicit drugs can be expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain, people desperate for an easy ‘high’ often turn to available household products. Inhaling certain toxic fumes produces an anaesthetic-like effect. This action, also known as ‘huffing’, has sent hundreds of users to hospitals and clinics because of its adverse side-effects and has become a major concern.
Like other addictive substances, continuous huffing can lead to dependence eventually resulting in changes to the brain’s reward pathways, as well as withdrawal symptoms. Any recreational use of inhalants is considered abuse, because of the severe damage the chemicals can inflict on the body.
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What are Inhalants?
Inhalants are substances such as aerosols, gases, solvents and nitrates that are mainly used by inhalation or volatilisation. While other drugs such as marijuana or heroin can be ingested via any other routes, inhalants can only be administered through the nose and trachea.
Many products contain volatile substances which cause the user to exhibit psychoactive behaviour when inhaled. Inhalants are easily obtained, because products that contain them can be found at home or in the workplace. Examples include spray paints, cleaning fluids, markers, glue and paint thinners.
Why are Inhalants Addictive?
Most addictive substances affect parts of the brain responsible for pleasure. The anaesthetic effect of inhalants is caused by secretion of neurotransmitters in the brain. People who abuse inhalants often see it as a cheap, harmless way to get ‘high’.
The repeated abuse of inhalants over a prolonged period causes you to develop a continued need to use them. An inhalant addiction can arise from a variety of causes that affects its progression, some of which can be psychological, biological or social.
If you are genetically predisposed to be dependent on inhalants, the likelihood of developing an addiction increases. Conversely, psychological issues such as a deep traumatic experience can force someone to seek relief in the ‘anaesthetic’ properties of using inhalants.
The Different Types of Inhalants
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are four major types of inhalants:
- Volatile solvents : These are liquids that vaporise at room temperature. Examples include paint thinners and removers, glues, gasoline, felt-tip markers and correction fluids.
- Aerosols : Aerosols are sprays that contain solvents and propellants,such as hair sprays, deodorants and spray paint.
- Gases : These fall under medical anaesthetics like ether, Halothane, Chloroform and laughing gas (nitrous oxide). Gases found in propane tanks, butane lighters and whipped cream dispensers also fall under inhalant category too.
- Nitrites : Nitrites differ from other inhalants, because they dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. Examples of nitrite are cyclohexyl nitrite in room odorisers, butyl nitrite and amyl nitrite (‘poppers’).
Household inhalants can be found in common domestic chemicals such as adhesives, model airplane glue, household glue and rubber cement. Solvents and gases like nail polish remover, cigar lighter fluid and toxic markers also fall under the household inhalant category. Even cleaning agents (dry cleaning fluid, spot remover and degreasers) have been abused as inhalers.
What is Inhalant Tolerance?
Tolerance occurs when your body starts changing the way it normally responds to regular intake of inhalants. This means your body has become accustomed to the continuous stream of inhalant chemicals. For this reason, you can never relive the same high as your first trial, when the experience was totally new to you.
Tolerance leads to addiction, because you’ll continue ingesting more chemicals to experience that desired euphoric sensation. Inhaling too much at a time can lead to overdose or somatic poisoning.
Dangers of Huffing Inhalants: Solvents, Aerosols, Gases and Nitrites
Using or abusing inhalants can be life-threatening. Huffing or sniffing noxious chemicals like glue or correction fluid can be fatal the first time they are inhaled, or you could lead to severe complications in the future.
People who abuse inhalants are in danger of suffering heart complications from muscle exertion or tissue death. In extreme cases, they can suffocate to death, because inhalants are more speedily absorbed in the lungs than oxygen, eventually displacing all the oxygen in the lungs. Sudden heart failure caused by inhalant abuse is known as ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’and can happen to first-time inhalers.
Once there is a build-up of inhalant chemicals in the brain, heart function, breathing and other vital bodily functions can stop, resulting in coma or death. Over time, brain damage from the build-up of noxious chemicals can greatly reduce the quality of life and also cause early death.
Signs and Symptoms of Inhalants Abuse
How can you tell if someone you know is suffering from inhalant abuse? There are certain signs and symptoms associated with inhalant usage. The effects of inhalants can range in severity and affect any man or woman psychologically, physically and socially. The effects of inhalant abuse can be categorised into short-term and long-term dangers.
Short term dangers of inhalant abuse:
- Emotional changes; aggression, depression, anxiety, apathy
- Impaired judgement
- Inability to partake in social groups
- Muscle weakness
Long-term effect of inhalants abuse:
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Heart complications, such as fluid build-up, irregular heartbeat and heart rhythm changes
- Brain damage
- Liver or kidney damage and failure
- Inability to reabsorb oxygen (oxygen depletion)
- Bone marrow damage
If you or a family member are experiencing any of these symptoms due to inhalant addiction, it is strongly recommended that you see a physician immediately.
The dangers of inhalation abuse can be physical and psychological. Typical signs of physical effects are spasms in hands and feet, suffocation and loss of consciousness. In addition, people who abuse inhalants suffer from depression or anxiety caused by substance poisoning. Some psychological effects of inhalation addiction include:
- Mood disorder
- Personality problems
What Are the Major Effects of Inhalants Abuse?
Besides the health complications we listed, abusing inhalants can also lead to personal and social problems, and you could end up being consumed by the negative consequences of abusive drug behaviour.
Most people suffering with addiction can end up isolating themselves from family and social units, which they once enjoyed. As a result, it will be more difficult sustain relationships with family and peers around them.
Common social effects of inhalant abuse are:
- Division from family : If you have a substance misuse disorder, family gatherings will feel like a trap, because you won’t have the freedom to indulge as you wouldlike. Eventually, some addicts refuse to meet their family or friends.
- Loss of interest in favourite activities : It’s difficult to keep up with your hobby if you are constantly in need of a ‘quick fix’. For example, if you love cycling or watching football, you’ll likely lose interest in them, because you have become fixated on inhalants. It’s difficult to root for your team when you are looking for something to inhale.
- Inability to keep a steady job : Maintaining a steady job is a big challenge for any addicted person. This is because they quickly lose concentration in their work responsibilities. Apathy is one of the side-effects of drug inhalation and this goes on to affect work roles as well. Your productivity levels will seriously decline, prompting the management to consider your employment.
- Loss of meaningful relationships : If you are an inhalant abuser, you may have noticed how it affects your relationship. Constant isolation can lead to long periods away from your partner or spouse. Eventually, the absence can strain the relationship and lead to a breakup. Relationships are a 50:50 arrangement and a situation where one party is emotionally detached doesn’t make it work.
You can repair these relationships and establish contact with long lost friends by seeking professional help to quit inhalation abuse.
Brain Damage as a Side Effect of Inhalant Use
The correlation between addictive drugs and the brain have intrigued researchers for years. There are countless research studies detailing the effect of substance abuse to the brain. Neuroscientists and physicians have discovered the chemistry behind the brain’s interaction with toxic substances, such as inhalants.
To explain this, we will discuss how inhalant abuse and brain damage are not only linked, but relevant in the development of each other.
Risks of Inhalant Abuse to the Brain
When you use toxic inhalants recreationally, the vapours from these substances can exacerbate the fatigue and death of brain cells. In larger quantities, inhalant abuse can trigger:
- Poor motor skills
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Emotional disturbance
- Impaired reasoning
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Traumatic Brain Injury and Addiction
Traumatic brain injury can also be the result of an external blow, injury or impact to the brain. The injury can be categorised as mild, moderate or severe, depending on the seriousness of the blow and the ensuing consequences.
As stated earlier, one of the common effects of abusing inhalants is the loss of proper motor coordination skills and impaired judgement. This has often led to accidents experienced while under the influence of the addictive substance – more so by people trying to drive whilst inebriated.
As psychoactive drugs directly impact the brain and central nervous system, it’s clear to see how inhalation abuse and dependency can have an adverse effect on recuperation from a brain injury. Likewise, it has been proven that addiction can get worse after suffering a severe brain injury.
Mixing Inhalants with Other Substances
Taking other substances, such as alcohol and drugs, at the same time as using inhalants can be fatal, due to the highly combustible nature of some sprays and even gases, smoking cigarettes around inhalants can result in an explosion that could kill you and anyone else nearby.
Because sniffing substances varies according to the product involved, those intoxicated by inhalants have little to no real functions during the period of usage. Most inhalants have a similar effect to alcohol and can lead to lethargic intoxication, particularly among those between the ages of 12 – 17 years old.
Cognitive functions may be controlled more by peer pressure to partake in ‘dares’, where teens urge each other to do things that might not make sense when they are sober. The teenage group is typically at risk, because inhalants are easily available and free.
The following substances can be mixed with inhalants:
Antipsychotics : Combining psychotics with an inhalant can produce symptoms similar to those the medication is meant to treat. Because inhalants usually produce delusions and hallucinations, combining them with an antipsychotic drug may intensify the experience. However, when the effect wears off, it can create a strong sense of paranoia and depression, including suicidal thoughts.
Alcohol : Drinking increases the risks of danger if you’re an inhalant abuser. The combined effects of inhalants and alcohol (two strong depressants of the nervous system) pose a high-risk for cardiac arrest and unconsciousness. Although passing out may not result in danger on its own, the risk of choking on your own vomit is high when alcohol and inhalants are used together. Other risks include driving under the influence and thoughts of self-harm.
Benzodiazepines : These substances work by suppressing your central nervous system. Using benzodiazepine together with the depressant effects of inhalants is a fatal combination. Respiratory failure can happen separately with either substance, and chances of this occurring increase significantly when these substances are mixed.
Cannabis : The nervous system will be under serious depressant effects when you mix inhalation with cannabis. Since you will be too ‘high’ to function normally, signs of nausea and lung/heart problems can go unrecognised. There are also risks of cardiac arrest, and the possibility of choking on your own vomit.
Antidepressants : The effect of mixing antidepressants and inhalants can vary with the chemicals involved. The mixture can increase the thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Due to the high self-harm associations observed with antidepressants overdose and inhalant abuse, mixing both substances often leads to greater suicidal ideations in teens.
Heroin : As observed with alcohol consumption, being intoxicated through inhalants and heroin is a high-risk situation, because it severely depresses the central nervous system. Since the user’s mental processes may likely be impaired at the time, there is great risk of an overdose.
How is Inhalant Abuse Diagnosed?
Diagnosisof inhalant abuse depends almost solely on a high suspicion index. Knowledge of usage history and a comprehensive physical examination are the bases of diagnosis.
Few lab tests are useful in helping to detect inhalant abuse. One of the suggested methods for diagnosing acute inhalant intoxication includes complete blood count, electrolyte determination, as well as calcium and phosphorus levels.
Who is at Risk of Addiction?
Inhalant abuse is an increasing concern among adolescents and young adults, particularly in underdeveloped parts of the world. Being easily available and cheaper than other popular illicit substances, the younger population in developing countries find it a suitable alternative to hard drugs. However, it is also common among teens in developed countries.
The onset of inhalant usage disorder usually begins in adolescence. It is often tagged the ‘forgotten drug epidemic’ because it is overshadowed by more popular drugs such as cannabis and cocaine.
How to Recognise Inhalant Addiction and Abuse in Teens
Teens are considered most at risk with this type of addiction, and it’s important to know if your teenager is involved in such abuse. One effective way to familiarise yourself with the signs, in order to recognise it early.
Below are some overt signs:
- Constant heavy breathing and increased heartbeat (because of oxygen-starved lungs)
- Loss of sense of smell
- Chemical smells on their clothing
- Loss of appetite
- Slurred speech
- Disoriented appearance
- Paint and chemical stains on skin and clothes
Inhalant Abuse Stats
While young adults tend to be primary abusers, inhalants can be used across any age group. The following statistics clarify the risks of the addiction to society in general:
- New users of inhalants between the ages of 12 – 15 years old usually abuse glue, lighter fluid, gasoline, shoe polish and spray paint. Adolescent age groups 16 – 17 years old abuse nitrous oxide (laughing gas), while older adults have a higher incident rate of abusing nitrites or ‘poppers’.
- Fluid inhalation, suffocation and vomit in the lungs are responsible for 15% of fatalities linked to inhalant abuse.
- 55% of deaths linked to inhalant dependency are caused by ‘Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome’. This condition can happen on the first trial and leads to cardiac arrest.
When to Seek Help for Inhalants Abuse
It’s never too early to get help for inhalant abuse. If you regularly act on the strong urge to sniff chemicals, contact an addiction specialist for the next step to treatment. Look out for the signs in your teens or loved ones. Then contact a professional for advice.
Withdrawal from Inhalants
While inhalant addiction triggers physical withdrawal symptoms, psychological withdrawal is more common. If you have been abusing inhalants for a long time, you’re more likely to experience psychological discomfort during withdrawal. Delusions or hallucinations are common withdrawal symptoms of inhalation.
Physical withdrawal symptoms are not as common and can start between six to 36 hours from the last usage:
- Hand tremor
- Grand mal seizures
- Rapid pulse
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Inhalant Rehab and Treatment Options
Because of complications that may arise during withdrawal (physical and psychological), it’s important to do so under the supervision and guidance of a medical expert.
There are accredited rehab centres in the UK that specialise in treating various addiction problems, including inhalation abuse. If you want to begin treatment and don’t know how to begin, please send us a message and we will respond immediately. All communication is confidential.
Treatment options include inpatient care facility and outpatient care service. Depending on your level of dependence, you can choose either option to begin the journey to recovery.
Psychotherapeutic Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
Every rehab addiction counsellor has his or her unique treatment procedure, but one of the most common is psychotherapy. It’s believed that every addiction problem has an underlying factor that triggered the abuse initially. Psychotherapy employs special treatment methods that help the therapist identify the root cause. Recovery is a lot easier when the source can be identified.
In the case of inhalant abuse, most teens start sniffing due to peer pressure, so your therapist (or child’s therapist) will likely begin from there.
Inhalant Abuse Detox
Detoxification is not essentially treatment, but it is the first step on the road to recovery. A physician performs detox to remove traces of the addictive substance from your body. This is where withdrawal kicks in, but with the appropriate medication and care from a doctor, the experience can be made bearable.
Prior to detox, you’ll be asked questions about your inhalation abuse history. This is to help the physician know how serious the procedure may likely be and what preparations to make. Blood and urine test diagnosis may be carried out. After detox, rehab therapy follows.
Inhalant Abuse Rehab
Rehab is where proper addiction treatment begins. There are different programmes employed across the numerous rehab facilities in the UK. It is important to select one based on its accreditation, treatment style and comfort. If you opt for the inpatient care facility, you will likely live in as a resident for 30 days or more. Outpatient rehab care attends to patients who resume from home instead.
Addiction treatment techniques may vary from therapeutic methods, such as CBT and CBP to aversion techniques. There will also be one on one sessions with a professional,as well asgroup therapy sessions with other patients. Programmes may include gym exercises, meditation, animal therapy, acupuncture and other alternative procedures.
At the end of this period, you will be released back into society as a sober person. However, treatment doesn’t end with checking out. There are also after-care programmes to guide you against relapse.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are inhalants and how are they used?
Inhalant is the term used to describe an addictive substance that is administered mainly through the nose and trachea into the lungs. Examples include spray paints, aerosols, paint thinners, glues and markers.
Are inhalants addictive?
Yes, they are. They stimulate the pleasure pathway of the brain and cause users to take it repeatedly for a ‘euphoric’ sensation.
How can you recognise signs of inhalant addiction and abuse?
Typical signs of inhalant addiction include heavy breathing, constant smell of chemicals and paint on the person, loss of appetite, slurred speech, disoriented appearance, as well as paint and chemical stains on skin and clothes.
What treatment is available for inhalant abuse?
There are various treatment procedures for addiction problems, but the most common type is psychotherapy. Common psychotherapeutic treatment techniques include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Behavioural Play (CBP), Aversion therapy and so on.
How do inhalants affect the brain?
Addictive substances like inhalants affect the brain by stimulating the production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals create a pleasurable sensation that forces you to continue inhaling the substance for a ‘continuous high’. Over time, dependence is built up and absence of the inhaled substance leads to withdrawal symptoms.
What are the other health effects of inhalants?
Besides suffocation, inhalants deprive the brain of oxygen, causing hypoxia. Lack of oxygen can damage the brain. Other health problems include liver and kidney damage, limb spasms, loss of consciousness and certain mood disorders.
Can a person overdose from inhalants?
Yes. Inhaling too much can lead to suffocation, coma orSudden Sniffing Death Syndrome(SSDS).
How can an inhalant overdose be treated?
The first step is to call for emergency medical assistance. In the meantime, open all windows and loosen tight clothing to encourage oxygen flow into the victim’s lungs. Find out what they have inhaled, so that the medical team can provide a solution immediately.
Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.