Inhalant addiction is a growing problem here in the UK. A recent study into the use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas as it is also known, showed that use of this substance is rapidly increasing, especially among young people. Nitrous oxide is typically inhaled from balloons, and many users are of the opinion that it is a harmless activity. However, research has revealed that some people are at risking neurological problems because of their abuse of laughing gas.
The study queried more than 100,000 people from twenty different countries, and of those questioned, 17,000 admitted to having tried nitrous oxide. Eight-and-a-half thousand had used it in the past year, which was an increase of 6.5% on the previous year.
Nitrous oxide use was more prevalent in the UK than in any other country taking part in the survey. Of the UK participants, 51.3 per cent had tried laughing gas before, and 38 per cent had used it in the past year. In 2015, 38 per cent admitted to having tried laughing gas while 23.7 per cent acknowledged to having used it in the previous twelve months.
While the majority of people said they inhaled nitrous oxide from a balloon, 13 per cent confessed to getting the gas from whipped cream dispensers. Others took even greater risks, with 0.6 per cent saying they inhaled the gas from a plastic bag, which could lead to suffocation. A further 0.8 per cent stated that they inhaled it from the gas bulbs found in the whipped cream dispensers, which carries a risk of freezer burns.
Seventy-two per cent of the individuals queried said they used nitrous oxide at house parties, with 48 per cent saying it was something they took at festivals. The level of use varied with 25 per cent saying they had only tried it once and half admitting to using it between once and ten times. One per cent of those questioned admitted to heavy use – over one hundred days in the past twelve months.
When asked about side effects of inhaling nitrous oxide, less than a third of those who had used it in 2016 said they had experienced confusion and hallucinations. Twelve per cent were affected by nausea, and 2.5 per cent had been involved in an accident.
The presence of long-term effects was another question, with a small number of people reporting numbness around the mouth and extremities. Four per cent spoke about ‘persistent numbness and tingling in their fingers and toes’, according to Dr Adam Winstock, who is a leading addiction specialist and consultant psychiatrist.
Dr Winstock, who conducted the survey, added, “Regular, frequent users, are at risk of peripheral neuropathy, although it is reversible. It’s not that this drug is dangerous but if you are taking it at that sort of level, it will deplete your levels of vitamin B12.”
While nitrous oxide is a gas that is commonly abused, it is not the only substance that people are guilty of inhaling for a ‘high’. Most of the substances that individuals inhale for the mood-altering properties are easily accessible and have everyday uses. These include cleaning fluids, correction fluid, permanent markers, nail polish remover, spray paint, hairspray, air fresheners, lighter fluid, and paint thinners.
As you can see, many of these substances would be present in the home and are, therefore, attractive to teenagers and young people who want to get high. This makes it extremely difficult for parents to prevent their children from abusing these substances. Despite the fact that these products contain warnings of the dangers of inhaling, many youngsters still view them as a harmless way to get high.
The Effects of Inhalants
Inhalants tend to affect users quite quickly, and the effect they have will depend on a number of factors, including the substance being abused, the general health of the user, and his or her age. Substances are inhaled and absorbed by the lungs before quickly travelling to the blood and then onto the brain. This makes the user feel lightheaded and intoxicated. They tend to produce similar effects to alcohol, but users often say that colours, sizes and shapes of objects become distorted. Some users may experience euphoria and giddiness while others just feel very sleepy. The effects of inhalants tend to last for about 45 minutes to an hour, but users usually top up by taking more of the substance to prolong the effects.
The Dangers of Inhalant Abuse
Inhalant abuse can lead to a number of health problems, depending on the substance being abused. Those who sniff solvents from plastic bags are risking asphyxiation, especially if they pass out while they still have their head in the bag. Others may fall unconscious and vomit, which increases the risk of death from choking.
Inhalant users are in danger of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. It is not uncommon for those with inhalant addiction to have suicidal thoughts. And because those who become intoxicated on inhalants become quite reckless, they are in danger of suffering burns from accidental fires due to the highly flammable nature of most inhalants.
Inhaling substances over an extended period can also lead to physical health problems such as lung disease, liver disease, neurological problems, and heart problems.
Chronic inhalant abuse can also result in inhalant addiction, and with that often comes a host of lifestyle problems including financial hardship, job losses, and relationship breakdowns.
Source: The Guardian