Addiction is a quickly growing epidemic in the United States. Each year, thousands die due to overdose and drug-related health problems. Addiction transcends demographics, tax brackets, and age groups, as it can and does affect everyone. Unfortunately, children aren’t exempt from this fact. Teens, middle schoolers, and even elementary-aged kids are susceptible to drug use and abuse.

Through a variety of factors like stress at home, peer pressure, mental health issues, and other contributors, some children seek out and use drugs. Though many of the dangerous illicit and prescription drugs of abuse are out of the reach of children, there is one class of drugs you may have in your home right now.

Inhalants are a class of drugs that are commonly used by children and are often a person’s first foray into drug abuse. They are usually found in common household products like cleaning agents, gasoline, and other chemical substances.

Because they can be found in almost any home, they are extremely accessible to children and teens. Unfortunately, their ubiquity doesn’t necessarily mean that they are less harmful than other drugs. In fact, some inhalants can be deadly. Parents and guardians need to be vigilant in keeping dangerous chemicals out of the hands of kids and teens, and older inhalant users should be aware of the risks associated with many of these forms of recreational drugs.

Learn about some of the most common inhalants, their effects on the human body, how to spot inhalant addiction, and how addiction can be treated.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are a class of drugs that can be inhaled without the use of heat or flame. For instance, gasoline can be considered an inhalant because fumes are naturally produced while, even though marijuana is inhaled, it requires fire and smoke to produce the desired effects. There are two main categories of inhalants: aerosol sprays and volatile chemicals.

Aerosol sprays are common among household cleaning products, and some can be inhaled for euphoric effects. However, the immediate effects are typically unpleasant and can include foul taste and severe headaches.

Volatile chemicals are substances that give off fumes like gasoline, solvents, and nail polish remover. These chemicals often need no other drug paraphernalia to use, but they too can cause extreme headaches and other immediate symptoms.

Some inhalants aren’t found in household supplies but, rather, are sold over-the-counter as recreational drugs. Products like amyl nitrites are sold as part drugs and can be marketed as seemingly harmless products like “room odorizer.”

Some commonly abused inhalants include:

  • Solvents: Volatile chemicals that produce gas at room temperature. Solvents can include paint thinners, lighter fluid, gasoline, felt-tip markers, and glue.
  • Aerosol sprays: Sprays are very common and can include spray deodorant, paint, air freshener, cleaning products, and cooking sprays.
  • Gases: These can be found in both household and commercial products like propane tanks, butane lighters, and whipped cream aerosol cans. Less common anesthetics also fit into this category and can include ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide.
  • Nitrites: These are the only commonly used inhalants that are sold as recreational drugs, though they are often disguised as other products. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), they can appear on store shelves as video head cleaner, room odorizer, leather cleaner, and liquid aroma.

What Are the Signs of Inhalant Addiction?

Inhalant use has a number of telltale signs, and since it’s most common in younger users, it’s important for parents and guardians to be aware of the earmarks of inhalant abuse. If you are worried that a loved one is using inhalants, look for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Inhalant products out of place or in strange places like a teen’s bedroom.
  • Drug paraphernalia like rags and plastic or paper bags.
  • The person has a drunken appearance like slurred speech or disorientation.
  • Frequent nausea or loss of appetite.
  • Withdrawing from normal activities or isolationism.
  • Exhaustion
  • Loss of focus
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Trouble breathing
  • Glue, paint, or other products around the face and mouth.
  • Recklessness
  • If a doctor diagnoses them with damage or disease of the blood, kidneys, liver, heart or, bone marrow.

Learning more about inhalants, addiction, and treatment may help you find a solution. If you or a loved one can’t stop using inhalants even despite negative consequences, you or they may be addicted to inhalants. Treatment will be necessary to get out from under the oppression of this substance use disorder.

Can Inhalants Cause Withdrawal?

Inhalants don’t commonly cause dependence or addiction. Severe substance use disorders are caused by your brain adapting to a drug and learning to rely on it and seek it out. Inhalants don’t usually cause your brain to react in the same way it would to other chemicals.

However, it’s possible for you to experience withdrawal symptoms after a period of inhalant use. Symptoms can include nausea, loss of appetite, sweating, insomnia, and changes in mood.

The timeline you might experience these withdrawals can vary widely based on a variety of factors including your size and weight, the amount of time you’ve been using the drug, the type of inhalant you’ve been using, and the dose you’ve been taking.

Typically, your body will require a few days to recover from inhalant use before returning to normal. Persistent symptoms may require medical treatment. Some things like a sore throat, trouble breathing, or neurological symptoms may be a result of damage caused by inhalant use, not normal withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Involved in Inhalant Addiction Treatment?

Inhalants can often lead to a form of a substance use disorder, which is a clinical term that describes substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. Inhalant abuse is rare, and use of the drugs rarely leads to long-term disease of the brain’s reward center that’s consistent with addiction.

However, dependence can occur, and symptoms of withdrawal have been reported by people trying to quit inhalant use. Addiction is a possibility, and it’s marked by the continued use of the drug despite consequences to health, home life, or other forms of personal well-being.

Inhalant addiction or inhalant use disorders are difficult to overcome without outside help. There are a variety of issues that contribute to addiction including, co-occurring mental health issues like genetic predispositions, stress, and other problems.

Addiction treatment can help you get to the root of your substance use issue and begin the road to lifelong recovery. There are a variety of treatment options and, with an addiction epidemic in the U.S., researchers are constantly working on new ways to combat the disease. There is some debate over which is the best approach to treatment.

NIDA has come up with a list of 13 principles that quality and result-driven addiction treatment services should have. These principles are based on scientific studies about the effectiveness of different factors in treatment. Many of the principles have become cornerstones in the modern substance use treatment model. If you are looking for effective inhalants addiction treatment, you should be aware of these particular elements of treatment and therapy:

There is no one definitive treatment that works for every person

Drug addiction is a very complex disease, which is often caused by a tangled web of underlying factors. A treatment option that helps a person with major depressive disorder may not be as effective for a person with a history of trauma.

Effective, results-driven treatment options need to be personalized to each person seeking treatment. When you enter a treatment program, clinicians and your therapist should sit down with you and explore your needs and concerns to build a treatment plan that is unique to you. An ineffective treatment would be to try to fit you into a standardized treatment plan.

While treatment is personalized, behavioral therapies are recommended

Behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and group therapy can answer a number of needs that are often seen in or alongside substance use disorder. They are also evidence-based, which means their effectiveness is supported by science, and these therapies can be reproduced in a variety of treatment settings.

Addiction is a complex and chronic disease

It’s important to approach addiction treatment with a proper understanding of what the disease is. It should be treated as a complex disease that is chronic and difficult to overcome without help.

As a disease, there is a threat of relapse that is similar to that of other diseases like asthma, hypertension, and diabetes. Addiction relapse can be as high as 60 percent.

To combat this, you will need to learn long-lasting relapse prevention strategies and continue to pursue treatment goals after formal treatment is over. Addiction therapy options with an understanding of the disease will be better suited to guide you to life-long recovery.

Treatment should address multiple needs

It’s not enough for a program to just address substance use disorders alone. Addiction can impact various aspects of a person’s life, including their finances, social life, career, health, mental health, and more. Treatment should be comprehensive, addressing multiple needs simultaneously. If the underlying issues that are feeding the addiction aren’t addressed, then it is more likely that you will eventually relapse.

Treatment needs to last long enough

Treatment isn’t over when the substance has been removed from your system in detox. Again, addiction is a chronic disease, and it can cause cravings and triggers for years after your last hit. Rewriting the way you process triggers, cravings, and stress will take time. Studies show that a minimum of three months (90 days) is the most effective duration. Like other aspects of treatment, your treatment duration should be based on your needs; however, 90 days is generally the most effective option.

Levels of Care

If you are seeking treatment for inhalant addiction, the level of care you are placed into is determined by your initial intake. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has a set of six criteria that help clinicians determine the right treatment options for each individual.

The first three criteria are used to determine a person’s immediate needs and typically describe the deciding factors in a client’s initial placement. The latter three help clinicians gain further insight into the interventions and therapies that can help you. The six criteria are as follows:

Based on these criteria, your intake assessment, and your meeting with a therapist, you will be placed in a level of care to begin your journey through addiction treatment. There are four basic levels of care, and they are as follows:

  • Outpatient treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Medically monitored inpatient services
  • Medically managed services

Completing formal treatment doesn’t mark the end of your recovery. Many facilities offer aftercare programs to connect you to additional services to help you continue to pursue goals in your recovery and your life as a whole.

How Dangerous Are Inhalants?

Unlike other recreational drugs, inhalants can be inherently deadly. When a person uses inhalants, they fill their lungs with gases and harmful chemicals that can damage their bodies. This commonly leads to hypoxia, a medical condition that comes from lack of oxygen.

It is especially dangerous to inhale fumes from a plastic bag or other tools that block the normal flow of oxygen. In those cases, your body has to contend with a lack of oxygen that is being replaced by harmful chemicals.

Inhalants that involve high-pressure canisters like computer and keyboard cleaners or nitrous oxide, escaping air comes out extremely cold.

Under normal circumstances, the escaping air rapidly conforms to normal room temperatures.

However, when it’s sprayed directly into the mouth or in the nose, you are introducing freezing air to your sensitive throat, which can cause frostbite. Certain chemicals, especially solvents, can cause lung infections like pneumonia, cardiac arrest, and aspiration of vomit. Chemicals like butane can cause asphyxiation and heart arrhythmias.

Inhalants addiction is associated with a phenomenon called sudden sniffing death syndrome. This occurs when an inhalant causes a sudden cardiac arrest in the user. In some cases, inhalants with anesthetic effects can decrease your tolerance to adrenaline. If you are startled in this state, the surge of adrenaline can cause a heart attack.

Inhalant Abuse Statistics

  • As of 2011, 22 million people age 12 or older had used inhalants at some point
  • Each year, approximately 750,000 people use inhalants for the first time.
  • In 2007, 13 percent of high schoolers reported having used inhalants.

Inhalants FAQ

Are Inhalants Stimulants?

Inhalants are a wide category of chemicals that are typically volatile, creating fumes at room temperature, or compressed in aerosol cans. Some may cause stimulating effects, but they are different than drugs in the stimulant category like cocaine and amphetamines that specifically work by interacting with dopamine and serotonin.

Are Inhalants Legal?

Most recreational inhalants are illegal to sell as drugs for human consumption. However, household and industrial supplies like solvents, aerosols, and gases can be sold legally for purposes besides human consumption. These products are often easy for children and teens to find and abuse.

Specific inhalants called nitrates used to be legally sold as room odorizer, leather cleaner, or liquid aroma, but they were intended to be used as recreational drugs. Nitrates have since been more heavily regulated, but they are still legally able to be sold for commercial purposes.

Can Inhalants Kill You?

Yes. Depending on the chemical, inhalants can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Inhalants have even been known to cause a phenomenon called sudden sniffing death, which is when a person dies immediately after one session of inhalant use. Sudden death usually involves butane, propane, and certain chemicals in aerosol cans. However, other inhalants can cause suffocation because of blocked airways or displacing oxygen in the lungs. Inhalants can also cause sudden seizures, coma, or fainting that leads to fatal injuries.

Can Inhalants Cause Brain Damage?

Most inhalants have short term effects on the central nervous system, but some can cause long- lasting damage to the brain. Some can cause asphyxiation, which can cause a lack of oxygen to your brain, causing brain damage.

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