What You Need to Know About Inhalant Abuse & Addiction
It usually takes both considerable money and effort for an addict to acquire their drug of choice. After all, with the exception of alcohol, most addictive substances are either controlled or illegal. Unfortunately, there is one category of drugs that is not only legal, it’s widely available and affordable — inhalants.
Inhalant abuse is the deliberate sniffing of common household products with the purpose of getting high. More than 22.9 million Americans have experimented with inhalants at some point in their lives, but the percentage of usage is highest among children ages 12-15. Addiction to inhalants is particularly difficult to recover from — and the rate of relapse is extremely high.
Inhalants are breathed in by sniffing or snorting fumes from containers, spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth, inhaling fumes from substances sprayed inside a plastic or paper bag, or by huffing from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth.
Types of Inhalants Abused
Although many drugs can be inhaled, the term inhalants is used to describe a variety of substances that are rarely, if ever, taken by any route other than inhalation. Since this definition covers a broad range of chemicals that are found in hundreds of different products, inhalants have been grouped into four general categories:
- Volatile Solvents — Liquids that vaporize at room temperature, including paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids, and felt-tip markers.
- Aerosols — Sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector sprays.
- Gases — Medical anesthetics and gases used in household or commercial products. Examples: ether, chloroform, halothane, nitrous oxide, butane, propane, and refrigerants.
- Nitrites — A special class of inhalants that dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles, rather than acting directly on the central nervous system like other inhalants. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl nitrite, and isobutyl nitrite. Though nitrites are now prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they are often still sold in small bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”
Nearly all abused inhalants — other than nitrites — produce a pleasurable effect by depressing the central nervous system. Within seconds of inhalation, chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and distributed to the brain and other organs. The user experiences intoxication and other effects similar to those produced by alcohol, including slurred speech, the inability to coordinate movements, euphoria, and dizziness. In addition, they may experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions. As the high subsides, it is followed by drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation.
Inhaled nitrites dilate blood vessels, increase heart rate, and produce a sensation of both warmth and excitement that lasts for several minutes. Other effects include dizziness and headache.
Because intoxication only lasts minutes, abusers often seek to prolong the high by repeated inhalations over the course of several hours. This is incredibly dangerous. With each successive inhalation, users risk a multitude of disastrous medical consequences, including Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. This syndrome occurs when the highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays induce irregular and rapid heart rhythms, leading to fatal heart failure. Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome is not relegated to chronic abusers. It’s estimated that 30 percent of people who die from using inhalants are first-time users.
Inhalant abuse also can cause death by: