Care worker Rebecca Grantley, aged just thirty-three, was found dead on her bed by family. Pathologists have now ascertained the cause of death as sudden sniffing death syndrome due to inhaling aerosol gas, a common cause of death in those who suffer from inhalant addiction.
Hidden Inhalant Addiction
Her father described Rebecca as ‘happy-go-lucky’, and she had recently been promoted to senior care worker at Raleigh Court, the care home in Hull where she worked. Her father said she had spoken of the possibility of becoming under-manager at the care home in the next few years, and that she seemed to have everything going for her. She loved her job and enjoyed helping the old people she worked with.
She had kept her addiction to inhaling aerosol gas hidden from family, who thought that she had turned her life around with her new job. Her behaviour the night before she died had been normal, and her father, who lived with her, had heard her watching television and speaking to someone on her mobile phone. He became concerned the following morning when she didn’t get up and, upon breaking into her bedroom, found her on her bed beside eight empty cans of hairspray. When the emergency services arrived, they discovered a further nine bags of hairspray cans in her room. She had told her father that she was taking the hairspray into work to do the old people’s hair, a claim that he believed.
Speaking at her inquest, the pathologist confirmed her death as being due to inhalant abuse, explaining that the repeated use of inhalants such as the gas found in aerosol cans can cause sensitivity to adrenaline, leading to irregular heartbeat and potentially death. This was what he thought had occurred in Rebecca’s case.
What is Inhalant Abuse?
The term ‘inhalants’ refers to a number of different substances – solvents found in everyday products such as paints, marker pens, glues, polishes and varnishes, and the propellant gases used in various aerosols such as hairsprays and computer cleaning sprays. These are called inhalants because they are abused by breathing in the chemicals through the nose or mouth.
Inhalant abuse is more common amongst teenagers, particularly younger teenagers, but can affect individuals of all ages. These substances are often not thought of as drugs because that was never their intended use, but this does not make them any less dangerous.
The Effects of Inhalants
Most of the substances inhaled have a similar effect on the user as alcohol – these include dizziness, euphoria, loss of balance and coordination, and slurred speech. Depending on the substance inhaled, it can also cause hallucinations, delusions and light-headedness. The effects of these drugs are quite short-lived, so users will often inhale the substance repeatedly over several hours in order to try to make the effects last.
Serious Risks to Inhalant Abuse
Even short-term use of inhalants can lead to nausea and vomiting, and there are several potential serious long-term effects. Repeated use can result in damage to the liver and kidneys – often irreversible. There can also be damage to the protective sheath surrounding the nerves, leading to spasms in the limbs and a permanent loss of co-ordination. As the use of inhalants reduces the level of oxygen reaching the brain, there is also a risk of permanent brain damage.
Perhaps the greatest risk is that which led to the loss of Rebecca’s life. Even on the first, single, use of inhalants, the user’s heart can fail within minutes, which is known as ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’.
The method of inhaling some solvents from a paper or plastic bag can also result in death from suffocation, particularly if the user loses consciousness or control. These substances may seem like harmless, everyday products, but they are no less dangerous than substances perceived as ‘hard drugs’.
Help and Information
If you are suffering from inhalant addiction, or you are concerned that a loved one could be abusing inhalants, Addiction Helper can provide you with the advice and support you need. Please contact us today for any further information.
Source: Tragedy of dedicated care worker Rebecca Grantley, 33, who died sniffing hairspray