While many parents express concerns about their children using alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine, few think about a danger hidden in plain sight. As we prepare for National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week, we invite you to learn more about household items with potential for abuse.
What Are Inhalants?
The word “inhalants” refers to a group of vapors produced by toxic substances which, when inhaled, produce a short-lived high. Their effects are similar to anesthetics; after a brief loss of inhibition, users report drowsiness, agitation, and light-headedness.
Commonly abused inhalants include:
- Gasoline (benzene and toluene)
- Amyl nitrite (“poppers”)
- Solvent glue
- Laughing gas (nitrous oxide)
- Refrigerant (freon)
- Cleaning supplies
- Spot removers (trichloroethylene)
- Paint solvents (methylene chloride)
- Lighter fluid (butane)
- Correction fluid
- Nail polish remover
- Nitrous oxide (“whippets”)
- Spray paint
Why Do People Try Sniffing or Huffing Drugs?
According to national surveys, nearly 21.7 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried inhalants at least once. Why is use of this class of drugs so common?
Inhalant use is widespread because they can be found in everyday household products, like permanent markers, glue, shoe polish, and paint thinners. They are highly accessible and easily concealed. This is why these substances are most abused by older adolescents and adults.
Inhalants are also unrecognized hazards; parents may not think to talk to their teens about these drugs. In fact, most adults don’t know how dangerous sniffing these drugs can be.
These risks are not exclusive to teenagers – many adults are not educated about the severe consequences of long-term inhalant abuse.
Are Inhalants Dangerous?
In a word, yes. Inhalants are a subject of concern for two key reasons: they carry significant potential for abuse, and their use can result in lifelong brain damage.
Inhalant intoxication produces dizziness, loss of coordination, and slurred speech. At high doses, users may experience vomiting, nausea, and blackouts. It is very easy to accidentally overdose on these CNS depressants.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), the highly concentrated chemicals found in solvents and aerosols can cause a person’s heartbeat to become both rapid and irregular. This arrhythmia can lead to heart failure within minutes, and is primarily associated with propane, butane, and aerosols. Fatal overdoses usually occur because of asphyxiation or heart failure, although suffocation, seizures, coma, choking, and fatal injury are also possible.
In the long term, these drugs produce a litany of harmful side effects. The NIH states that inhalants are “extremely toxic,” causing long-term damage to the brain and nervous system. For example, chronic abuse of toluene damages the protective sheath around nerve fibers in the brain and central nervous system in a way that is similar to the effects of a neurological disease.
This toxicity impacts other organs as well. People who once abused inhalants may also experience:
- Bone marrow damage
- Kidney damage
- Hearing problems
- Liver damage
How to Recognize Inhalant Abuse
Early identification of inhalant abuse is the best way to prevent permanent damage. Friends, family members, and coworkers should be on the lookout for chemical odors, slurred speech, lack of coordination, loss of concentration, and reduced appetite. Other signs may manifest, such as chemical-soaked rags, sores in or around the mouth, nystagmus, stains on one’s face or hands, or hidden spray paint or solvent containers.
If someone you love has developed a dependency on these drugs, we encourage you to seek help. Treatment centers like Lakeside-Milam have programming tailored to the needs of adults who have begun misusing inhalants. Through a combination of medical stabilization and innovative psychotherapy, we help people to break the cycle of addiction.
For more information about inhalant abuse and its treatment, please contact us today.