The Shocking Truth About Inhalant Abuse

Inhalant abuse is a common occurrence in many households, especially when considering the fact that over 1,400 household products can be sniffed, inhaled and huffed. This method to get high is most popular among young adults, teenagers and kids.

People who are addicted to inhalants breathe them in through various ways.

They can either sniff or snort the fumes from containers, or spray the aerosols directly into their mouth or nose. The chemicals can also be sprayed into plastic bags and inhaled or sniffed. The gases may be inserted into balloons and sniffed or inhaled.

Sometimes, the chemical products are "huffed" from chemical-soaked rags. This type of inhalation method is quite dangerous, as the chemical concentration of the drugs may be more potent. It may also lead to chemical burns.

In most cases, inhalant abuse results in a high that lasts only a few minutes. This means that an addict will need to continue to inhale the gases over and over again to sustain their high. Inhalant use affects the dopamine receptors in the brain, which is what causes the euphoric sensations.

Types of Inhalants

There are many different types of inhalants that can be abused. Most of these inhalants are able to offer a quick buzz, but can cause long-term irreversible damage to the body. Each inhalant will cause different types of damage to the body based on their primary chemical compound.

There are many products that can be inhaled. Most kids are pretty creative when it comes to finding inhalants. Popular chemical compounds that are inhaled include:

  • Amyl nitrate, which includes gases like poppers. These inhalants cause a strong and potent high. The chemical compounds diffuse directly into the muscles and the bloodstream.
  • Benzene, which includes gasoline. This type of inhalant can cause bone marrow damage.
  • Hexane, which includes gasoline and glue. These inhalants can cause blackouts and limb spasms.
  • Nitrous oxide, which includes gas cylinders and whipped cream dispensers or whippets. The effects of these inhalants include blackouts and limb spasms. To abuse these inhalants, the nitrous oxide is sprayed into a bag and inhaled or sniffed. It has similar properties to ether and other gaseous anaesthetics.
  • Toluene, which includes spray paint, glue and fingernail polish. These inhalants can cause side effects like hearing loss, liver damage, kidney damage and brain damage. Toluene is relatively cheap as an inhalant, and the mild inhalant high is usually followed by a 'crash'.  Solvents, in particular, often have a rather short high. People who are addicted to these inhalants often have to inhale again rather quickly to sustain their high.
  • Trichloroethylene, which includes correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid and cleaning fluid. The effects of these inhalants include liver damage, kidney damage and hearing loss.

Inhalants can be sniffed, snorted or huffed. Sniffing whipped cream or whippets may seem harmless at first, but this habit can have devastating effects on the human body. Many of these gases work by affecting the central nervous system. They decrease activity in the brain, which causes the body to relax. 

Regular use of these inhalants can quickly spiral into addiction. Most of the time, an inhalant addiction starts out as a recreational way to pass time. Soon, users develop dependence on inhalants and will feel as if they need them to function.

Although a wide range of household products can be sniffed or inhaled, there are some street names or nicknames for these types of drugs. Some of them include:

  • Aimies
  • Bolt
  • Bullet
  • Moon gas
  • Poppers
  • Spray
  • Quicksilver
  • Whippets
  • Whiteout

The process of sniffing inhalants is also known as huffing, glading, bagging and ballooning. Different regions and areas have different nicknames for this type of drug use. Since most of these inhalants are household products, most people won’t have to look for the drugs through illegal means. They can simply look underneath the sink or in the cabinets of their own home.

Inhalant Side Effects

Long-term inhalant use can result in many unwanted side effects. Inhalant side effects can be permanent, and can cause lasting damage to the body. This is particularly true since most people who abuse inhalants are teenagers and young adults. Their bodies are still developing.

It’s wise to understand the side effects that are associated with inhalant abuse.

Regardless of the type of chemicals that are inhaled, the side effects remain rather consistent. Some common immediate side effects of inhalant use include:

  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Facial rashes
  • Jerky reactions
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of motor controls
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sedation
  • Slurred speech

People who abuse inhalants will often look as if they’re drunk and have been drinking. You'll also notice that you'll be able to smell a chemical-like smell coming from them, and you might even see marks around their mouths and noses.

Inhalant particles are rapidly absorbed by the lungs. The particles then travel into the bloodstream and to the brain. This means that the brain is quickly affected. Respiratory arrest may also happen since the chemical compounds of inhalants are absorbed by the mucous membranes in the lungs.

Long-term or chronic inhalant use can lead to irreversible and permanent neurological and neuropsychological side effects. This is because inhalant use can cause significant damage to various membranes.

Those who use inhalants for extended periods of time are more susceptible to developing long-term side effects. Some of the most common long-term side effects include:

  • Ataxia
  • Bone marrow toxicity
  • Brainstem dysfunction
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Deafness
  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Motor deficits
  • Sensory deficits
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tremor

Women who abuse inhalants are more likely to develop menstrual disorders. They are also more susceptible to preeclampsia and spontaneous abortions. Abusing inhalants when pregnant may also result in fetal solvent syndrome.

People who are addicted to inhalants are at risk of collapsing from sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSDS). At its essence, this syndrome is basically heart failure brought on by a tremendous amount of stress.

Inhalants increase the sensitivity of the heart to compounds like adrenaline. This means that inhaling various inhalants will cause one's heart to work over time. This strenuous activity can be very taxing on the heart.

There have been many cases of teenagers and young children dying from SSDR. SSDR can kick in at any time. It may happen after several months of continuous inhalant use, or it may happen with only several uses.

Another side effect of inhalant use is a frozen trachea. This happens when a person sprays the inhalants directly into their mouths. This means that the chemical compounds will come in direct contact with the trachea. 

The aerosol needs to transition from a liquid to a gas. To transition from one state to another, it needs heat. The fastest and easiest way for it to get the heat it needs is to get it from your body. This means that it will absorb heat from your trachea and respiratory system.

This can cause the mucous membrane of these areas to freeze. When it freezes, it prevents you from breathing. This is a scary and agonizing condition, and will often lead to death.

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms

Chronic inhalant use can lead to dependence. This means that when a person may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using inhalants. Inhalant withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and include a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms.

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Some common withdrawal symptoms of inhalant abuse include:

  • Body pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia and difficulties sleeping
  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attacks and paranoia
  • Profuse sweating
  • Psychosis
  • Tremors and seizures

Even a single inhalant use can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Continuous use will damage vital organs. If you or someone you know is dealing with withdrawal symptoms, seek drug and alcohol rehab.

Inhalant withdrawal symptoms often appear within 1 to 2 days after last use. These physical symptoms often include tremors, vomiting, nausea and profuse sweating. After 48 hours, these physical symptoms will begin to subside, but psychological symptoms will appear. Psychological symptoms include anxiety, intense cravings, insomnia and irritability.

The physical withdrawal symptoms will usually almost completely subside by the 3rd to 7th day. During this time, the psychological symptoms will still remain strong. They will tend to persist over an extended period of time. They can be treated with both residential treatment programs and intensive outpatient programs.

By the end of the week, the physical symptoms will usually be completely gone. The psychological symptoms will start to subside, and will usually disappear completely within a month.

Addiction Treatment for Inhalant Abuse

Since withdrawal symptoms can be rather persistent, it's not unusual for those who are addicted to inhalants to relapse. An addiction treatment program can help prevent this from happening. It can also help expedite the withdrawal process, and make sure that those who are withdrawing from inhalant abuse are doing so in a safe manner.

There are many different types of treatments designed specifically for inhalant abuse. The key to getting sober is to quit cold turkey. Medical professionals at the addiction treatment facilities may also recommend medical detox, along with various therapies.

Medical detox can help lessen the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. It can also curb cravings. The treatment will keep patients as comfortable as possible. Different types of medications are used based on each patient’s condition. You’ll need to speak with a medical professional to determine what may work best for your situation.

Support groups are effective in treating the underlying causes of addiction. Support from others can also help prevent relapses. It's much easier to get sober when you're going through the withdrawals with other people.

Recover from an Inhalant Addiction

Inhalant abuse doesn't take the headlines in the news anymore. This is because there are other pressing matters to address, like the rising opioid epidemic. However, this does not mean that inhalants are not still being frequently abused.

Since inhalants are cheap and easily accessible, they are often being abused by young kids and adults. The damage that these drugs do to their developing bodies can be quite significant. Some damages are even irreversible.

With that said, it's important to seek help for an inhalant addiction as soon as possible. The right type of inhalant addiction treatment will smooth the road to recovery, and make it a lot easier to get and stay sober.

With persistent and some effort, anyone can break free from the chains of addiction and lead a healthier life.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

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