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Inhalants Addiction

Written By
Matt Gonzales
This page features
9 Cited Research Articles

Those desperate for an easy buzz turn to household products, inhaling the toxic fumes for an anesthetic-like effect. “Huffing” sends hundreds of inhalant users to hospitals and treatment clinics, where the psychological and physical addictions to these products can be addressed by a caring staff.

Fast Facts: Inhalants

Addiction Liability
Street Names
Whippets, Gluey, Huff, Rush, Spray, Moon Gas
Side Effects
Slurred Speech, Dizziness, Unconsciousness, Damage to Nervous System, Liver or Kidneys
How It's Used
Psychological Dependence
Physical Dependence

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants produce chemical vapors that can be breathed in to achieve a high. These substances include solvents, aerosol sprays, gases and nitrites. Products such as shoe polish, gasoline, lighter fluid and spray paint can be abused through inhalation.

Other household products that can serve as inhalants include:

  • Hair spray
  • Cooking spray
  • Glue
  • Rubber cement
  • Paint thinner

People who abuse inhalants can do so in various ways, including by sniffing or snorting fumes from a glue bottle, by spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth or by inhaling balloons filled with nitrous oxide.

Bagging, another form of inhalant abuse, involves placing a bag filled with fumes over the head and breathing in the chemicals. This inhalation method can be dangerous and lead to suffocation or asphyxiation.

Dr. Shashwat Saxena, a psychiatrist, told The Times of India that the availability, cheap price and euphoric effects of inhalants contribute to their popularity, especially among urban teenagers.

“It made me feel like I disappeared,” said a 14-year-old who started abusing inhalants when he was 12. “I couldn’t think about anything.”

In response to the increasing number of teens getting hurt from inhalants, a growing number of companies are adding age restrictions to commonly abused products.

Spray Paint Can

What Is ‘Huffing?’

“Huffing” involves breathing inhalants from a chemically soaked rag. The individual holds the cloth to the face or inserts it in the mouth and inhales the product to achieve a high.

This activity can be dangerous. Huffing slows down the body’s functions and creates a short, intense buzz that often lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. The toxins absorb quickly through the lungs, into the bloodstream, and spread out into the brain and other organs.

Depending on the potency of the product and the intensity of the inhaling, the high can be a dangerous and disorienting ride.

In many cases, a single huffing experience snowballs into a habit that can escalate beyond the inhalant user’s control. Studies reveal that inhalants can be both psychologically and physically addictive.

“Yes, huffing is addictive. The chemical targets pathways in the brain that produce an altered mental state and provide a sense of pleasure. This area can become damaged and not work as intended, triggering frequent cravings to huff or use other drugs. This addictive effect may last long-term.”

Erin Burns, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

While many inhalant users first try the drugs at a party or with friends, they can soon start to seek the high by any means necessary and may add huffing into their daily routine.

“I would siphon gas out of cars to huff it,” the 14-year-old said. “I had to have it, and it was easy to get.”

He started combining various inhalants to maximize the effects, until one day he went too far, combining gasoline, paint, glue and compressed air.

“By about 10 p.m. that night, I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I was scared I was dying. I couldn’t get enough air. I was throwing up. I knew I had to quit.”

Brain Damage and Other Side Effects of Inhalant Use

Inhalants contain mind-altering chemicals that can be dangerous when breathed in. They often impact the central nervous system and slow down brain activity. Following the initial head rush, you’re likely to feel drowsiness, lightheadedness and agitation.

Short-term side effects of inhalants may include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Lingering headache
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Loss of self-control

Over time, inhalants can cause irreversible physical and mental damage.

Long-term effects of inhalant use may include:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Limb spasms
  • Delayed behavioral development
  • Brain damage

Younger inhalant users are especially at risk.

“When inhalants are used chronically, especially in the teen years, it can lead to permanent changes in cognition, a decreased IQ and long-term problems with depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviors,” said Burns.

Inhalant use may cause heart problems, such as dysrhythmia. On occasion, one-time use results in heart failure; a condition known as sudden sniffing death syndrome was coined for those who die from a single session of inhalant use. SSDS is the most common cause of death from inhalant use.

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Chills, Convulsions and Other Withdrawal Symptoms of Inhalant Use

Inhalant use can result in addiction, though it isn’t common. While the addictive properties of inhalants can mostly be considered psychological, a number of physical withdrawal symptoms are observed in habitual abusers.

Inhalant withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chills
  • Convulsions

If you or someone you know has a problematic habit with inhalants, don’t wait to reach out for help. The longer a habit continues, the greater the risk of permanent damage or injury.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Other Treatment Approaches for Inhalant Abuse

Catching an inhalant problem in its early stages can help you or your loved one recover. As the addiction progresses, you may need to enlist the services of rehab professionals to safely guide you through the withdrawal period.

Following detox, you may be encouraged to undergo treatment, a safe and proven way to overcome a substance use problem. Pairing rehab with support groups can be effective in defeating substance use disorders.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says more research is needed to identify the most effective treatment approaches for people battling inhalant abuse. But certain behavioral therapies can help people with addiction modify their attitudes toward inhalant use.

NIDA states that cognitive behavioral therapy has helped people overcome their inhalant addiction. This behavioral therapy approach helps individuals recognize, avoid and cope with situations that encourage or promote drug use.

Motivational incentives may also be effective in helping people reduce inhalant use, according to NIDA. This therapy approach uses vouchers or small cash rewards as an incentive for staying drug-free.

A mental health counselor or local rehab center can teach inhalant users the skills needed to make healthy life choices and avoid inhalant use.

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