Inhalants are one of the only types of drugs abused more often by younger children than by older children. Adults also misuse the substances, but adult inhalant use is less common than many other types of drug use.
The substances contain dangerous chemicals capable of damaging the brain, heart and other organs. Many people use inhalants for a quick high, but they’re often unaware of potential health effects.
Children and teens can find psychoactive substances in household products. They can also legally purchase many types of inhalants online or in grocery stores. Repeated use of the drugs can lead to dependence and addiction. Inhalant abuse also increases the risk of other long-term health problems.
Inhalants are substances or chemicals that people breathe in to get high. While other types of drugs can also be inhaled, smoked or snorted, inhalants are only used through inhalation.
Methods of inhalant use include huffing, sniffing, snorting or bagging. Huffing involves holding a rag soaked in chemicals to the face and inhaling. Sniffing or snorting describes inhaling a substance through the nose. With bagging, people breathe in vapors from a paper or plastic bag.
Many inhalants are legally available for purchase in stores and other outlets. They include solvents, gases and aerosol. Nitrites are a unique type of inhalant banned for noncommercial purposes.
Types of inhalants:
Inhalants aren’t classified as depressants, stimulants or other types of drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration regulates stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, narcotics and steroids. The agency doesn’t regulate inhalants, according to the DEA website.
While inhalants aren’t stimulants or depressants, they can cause depressive or stimulating effects. Inhalants temporarily deprive the body of oxygen. The heart reacts by beating faster and increasing blood flow to the brain, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research.
Different inhalants cause different types of effects, but most inhalants cause a drunken feeling. Other inhalant effects include:
As the high fades, inhalants cause a crash characterized by headache, nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing. Many people use the drugs repeatedly to sustain the high and avoid the crash. This increases the risk of serious health problems.
Sudden sniffing death syndrome occurs when the heart fails because of inhalant abuse. The drugs make the heart beat rapidly and irregularly, increasing the risk of heart failure. Other complications from inhalant use can also lead to death.
Inhalant paraphernalia isn’t as obvious as other types of drug paraphernalia. But you can detect inhalant abuse by looking for otherwise normal signs in suspicious situations.
A smell of bleach or other chemicals may not raise an alarm in your home. But if a teen’s bedroom regularly smells like cleaning supplies, he or she may be abusing inhalants. Paint or stains on your child’s hands or clothes may be a sign. A suspicious collection of cleaning products, solvents or other solutions may also be a warning sign.
Other examples of inhalant paraphernalia include:
Physical signs of inhalant use are similar to signs of alcohol or drug use. People under the influence of inhalants appear disoriented. They may be unable to stop laughing. Other signs of inhalant use include slurred speech, irritability and difficulty concentrating.
Inhalants can be addictive, but inhalant addiction is less common than other forms of drug addiction. Continuous use leads to the development of tolerance and physical dependence. These are common precursors to drug addiction.
Tolerance occurs when a person has to use increasingly higher doses of an inhalant to get high. Dependence occurs when people experience withdrawal when they can’t access inhalants. Withdrawal is different from the crash following inhalant use.
Inhalant withdrawal symptoms include:
A study of toluene, a chemical found in some paint thinners, found the chemical caused similar changes to the brain as other addictive drugs. The study was published in 2007 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Treatment for inhalant addiction can occur in inpatient or outpatient settings. In general, people with more severe forms of addiction are more likely to maintain recovery if they attend rehab at an inpatient facility.
Nurses at an inpatient facility can keep people safe during inhalant withdrawal. Counseling and therapy treat underlying causes of addiction and help patients learn healthy ways to cope with stressors and triggers that drive inhalant abuse.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational incentives are two forms of therapy that have been effective for people addicted to inhalants. CBT helps people recognize and cope with situations likely to lead to relapse. Motivational incentive programs provide rewards for abstaining from drug use.
Youths with addiction also tend to benefit from family-based therapies, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Inhalants are dangerous substances capable of causing addiction and other serious health problems. If you’re a parent, warn your children about the dangers of inhalant abuse. People addicted to inhalants can recover with treatment from an accredited therapist or rehab facility.
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