Inhalant addiction is not something we hear about very often, but it is a serious problem, especially among young people. These substances are relatively easy to access and far cheaper than ‘conventional’ drugs. Many people do not think of these substances as drugs because they are common, everyday legal substances; nevertheless, when abused as drugs, they can be very damaging.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are chemicals that evaporate very easily and so can be inhaled, usually through the nose, to produce a ‘high’. These chemicals enter the bloodstream very quickly, therefore getting to the brain rapidly and creating an almost instant effect. Substances that are abused as inhalants include:

  • petrol
  • solvents – there are many different types of solvent; solvents are found in things such as marker pens, correction fluid (e.g. tippex), varnishes and paints, nail varnish and remover, and glues. Not all solvents are harmful (for example, water is the solvent in some types of these products), but many are very dangerous indeed.
  • some cleaning products
  • cigarette lighter fuel (butane gas)
  • aerosol propellants
  • certain nitrite compound – amyl nitrite (originally used to treat certain heart problems) and, more commonly, butyl nitrite (found in some room odorisers), known as ‘poppers’.

To breathe in the chemicals, users will either apply the substance to a cloth, inhale it from inside a plastic bag, or simply sniff the product itself.

What Effects Do Inhalants Have?

The precise effects will vary depending on the inhalant being used, but they generally produce feelings of excitement and euphoria, increased self-confidence, and a lowering of inhibitions. These effects are all like those of other stimulant drugs, and in the case of inhalants occur because they reduce the levels of normal brain activity.

Higher doses of inhalants will cause drowsiness and may cause confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. They usually result in users having a distorted sense of time. Other side effects include nausea and vomiting, severe headaches, loss of coordination, and problems with breathing.

Someone who is frequently using inhalants, particularly those with strong solvents, may develop a characteristic rash around their mouth and nose due to the damage the solvent is inflicting on their skin.

Why Are Inhalants Dangerous?

The effects of inhalants are very short-lived, lasting as little as fifteen to thirty minutes. This can lead users of inhalants to keep repeatedly taking the drug in order to try and maintain the desired effects, potentially leading to almost continuous use with serious consequences. The depression of the central nervous system that occurs from taking inhalants can become so great that breathing stops.

There have been numerous cases where individuals have died on their first use of inhalants, or after having used them for some time. Sudden deaths have resulted from several effects including suffocation when using plastic bags to inhale the substance, heart failure, suffocation due to the throat becoming frozen by inhaling aerosol gases, and the inhalation of toxic compounds.

Those who have abused inhalants for some time can also experience long-term side effects. These vary, depending on the particular substance being inhaled, but can include the following:

  • weight loss
  • skin problems – including sores around the mouth and nose
  • loss of memory
  • mood swings
  • problems with concentration
  • permanent central nervous system damage.

Certain solvents also have specific effects. Inhaling paint thinner and solvents from glue, for example, can cause kidney damage, while toluene (found in nail varnish) and trichloroethylene (a solvent used in industrial cleaners) damage the liver. Other solvents can cause damage to bone marrow, leading to problems with blood cells.

Are Inhalants Illegal?

One of the problems with inhalant abuse is how easy it is to get hold of them. Most of the substances mentioned here are freely available to anyone over the age of eighteen (sixteen for some substances). Since there is no control on their sale, many people will not realise how harmful these can be if misused. The only substance that has any control over it is amyl nitrite; only a pharmacist can issue it, but it is not illegal for anyone to possess.

What Help Is Available for Victims of Inhalant Addiction?

If you or someone you care for has an inhalant addiction, then there is help available. At Addiction Helper, we can provide you with free and impartial advice on the treatments available, both privately and via the NHS and other charity organisations.

We can explain the different treatment options available, help you to decide on the best options for your situation, and even help you find a place in a treatment centre. We also provide support for families and loved ones of individuals going through treatment. Please contact us today for more information and to find out how we can help.

Source: (The Independent) What exactly are poppers?

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