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Inhalant Addiction and Abuse

Inhalants produce effects that can be similar to alcohol use and are most commonly abused by teens. They are easy to acquire and often found in the household.

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Addiction to Inhalants

inhalantsEven though national surveys indicate that 21.7 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, inhalant abuse is less common than other drugs, and most cases occur in more isolated regions. However, inhalants do have addictive qualities. The danger of an inhalant addiction shouldn’t be overlooked just because it is less common than others.

People who use inhalants on a regular basis over a long period of time can develop a physical and psychological dependence on the substance.

Inhalant use is most prevalent among teenagers. Studies suggest that between 13.1% and 16.1% of 8 graders use inhalants, which is approximately the same percentage that use marijuana. People who are unable to control their inhalant use despite knowing the negative consequences and health effects are generally considered to have an addiction. Even those with an overwhelming desire to stop abusing inhalants may be unable to do so. The ready availability of inhalants at home and in stores may make it difficult for someone with a severe addiction to quit on their own.

Understanding Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile, often flammable substances that vaporize at room temperature. Inhalants produce short-lived, mind-altering effects that can be similar to alcohol’s effects. Inhalants encompass a wide variety of chemicals and anesthetics categorized together based on their method of administration: inhalation. These substances are often referred to as whippets, laughing gas, huff or hippie crack.

Substances Considered Inhalants

Inhalant abuse includes the misuse of household solvents, gases and anesthetics. Household inhalants can be anything from cleaning products to gasoline.

Anesthetics are gases used to medically reduce sensitivity to pain. Nitrous oxide and chloroform are some well-known anesthetics. Nitrous oxide is best known as “laughing gas” and is commonly used by dentists. This gas is also used in cans of whipped cream, which is where most abusers get it.

Amyl nitrite is also a popular inhalant that has been used to increase blood flow in people with heart disease. Nitrites are oftentimes subjugated to their own class of inhalants because they act primarily as a muscle relaxant, different from the effects of other inhalants.

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Classes of Inhalants

Solvents

  • Paint thinners
  • Dry-cleaning fluids
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Correction fluids
  • Felt-tip marker fluid
  • Electronic contact cleaners
  • Glue
  • Nail polish
  • Nail polish remover

Aerosols

  • Spray paint
  • Hair spray
  • Deodorant spray
  • Aerosol computer cleaning products
  • Vegetable oil sprays

Gases

  • Butane lighters
  • Propane tanks
  • Whipped cream dispenses (commonly referred to as whippets)
  • Ether
  • Chloroform
  • Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)
  • Freon

Nitrites

  • Video head cleaner
  • Room odorizer
  • Leather cleaner
  • Liquid aroma

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Inhalant Effects and Abuse

Inhalants can be abused using several different methods, with the most common being “huffing.” Huffing is soaking a rag with a liquid inhalant, holding the rag up to one’s mouth and/or nose, and then inhaling the vapors. Some people inhale the substance directly from its container through their mouth or nose.

People may also inhale the substance out of a plastic or paper bag or inhale gas from balloons. Some people have reportedly heated these substances before inhaling them to intensify the effects.

Inhalant intoxication has been compared to alcohol intoxication due to their similar effects, such as impaired judgment or motor function. Unlike alcohol, inhalants can cause a temporary hallucinatory state. Additionally, the effects of inhalants only last for a few minutes. The effects of inhalants include:

  • Excitability
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of self-control
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Limited reflexes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blacking out
  • Slurred or distorted speech

Teens are the largest group of individuals abusing inhalants. The average age among first-time users in 2012 was about 17 years of age.

Any use of inhalants is considered abuse in part because of the serious damage these substances can inflict on the body. Inhalants act as a central nervous system depressant, and higher doses or deep breathing of these solvents can result in a fatal overdose. This is usually preceded by the user losing touch of reality and experiencing nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. A fatal overdose is generally the result of heart failure, asphyxiation or the drug causing the user to stop breathing on their own.

Additional long-term effects of inhalant use include:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Loss of coordination and limb spasms
  • Nerve damage
  • Delayed behavioral development
  • Brain damage
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Inhalant Abuse Statistics

10k+

hospital visits

There were over 10,000 visits to the emergency room for inhalant abuse in 2011.

60+

percent of teenagers

Over 60% of first-time users are teenagers and abuse is more common among younger teens.

140K

cases of addiction

Inhalant dependence is rare—about 140,000 dependencies in 2011. For comparison, there were over 100 times as many alcohol dependencies in the same year.

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Treating an Inhalant Addiction

Inhalant addiction is a very serious problem that can cause permanent brain damage in a short period of time. Most individuals who suffer from inhalant addiction need for professional treatment. There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment options available for people suffering with an addiction to inhalants.

Inhalants are one of the most detrimental substances of abuse to a person’s health. If you or someone you know has an inhalant addiction, get help finding treatment.

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