Many young people begin their substance abuse patterns with inhalants. Researchers have found that young people used inhalants for the first time when they were about 9 years old, and they only moved to alcohol when they were about 12 years of age. Inhalants are popular drugs among young people and that parents and guardians would do well to ensure that their charges don’t start raiding the garage or the family medicine cabinet for substances to abuse.
However, focusing exclusively on adolescent inhalant abuse could mean leaving adults with very serious problems hidden deep in the shadows, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are many adults who need help with inhalants. In fact, SAMHSA reports that about 1.1 million American adults use inhalants. These people may need help in order to break this dangerous and destructive habit.
What is Inhalant Abuse?
Inhalant abuse can be as simple as breathing in deeply when the cap is removed from a household product. Other ways to abuse household products it to soak rags in substances, place those rags in bags or cans, and then inhale the vapors as they emerge. People may also put bags over their heads as they inhale, hoping to breathe in only the fumes and no fresh air at all.
Inhalants like this move quickly through the lungs and into the bloodstream, and the intoxication a user feels is similar to that experienced by someone who has drunk and digested alcohol. It’s a silly and happy feeling, and the immediate response produced by these substances make them attractive to users. The sensation doesn’t last long, however, so many people who inhale take repeated hits, hoping to extend the sensation for longer and longer periods of time.
What types of products are inhaled?
Inhalant abuse takes place any time a user puts his/her mouth or nose in contact with a volatile substance with the express purpose of achieving a high. It’s a relatively easy thing to do inside the home, as there are many different products that produce toxic and intoxicating fumes when they’re exposed to the air, including:
- Paint thinner
- Cooking spray
- Aerosol room fresheners
- Shoe polish
- Ink markers
Products Outside the Home
While many users focus their habits on specific chemicals found in the home, some people take to the Internet in order to find substances to use and abuse. These people may look for products containing nitrites that might be sold as “poppers.” These drugs are also inhaled and they can produce a sensation similar to alcohol intoxication, but they can also produce specific side effects that intensify sexual experiences.
As a result, these tend to be popular drugs of abuse among adults. Unlike young people, who might want to take inhalants simply because they can get them, adults might focus on these specific types of inhalants in order to make a sexual experience just a little more interesting. While nitrite inhalants can cause some of the same side effects associated with household inhalants, they may also have their own dangers that could impact the health and happiness of users. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that these drugs may contribute to the development of diseases and tumors, as the drug seems to deplete the cells that make up the body’s immune system. It’s a bit like lowering the body’s natural defenses, allowing problems to blossom and spread where they might have been kept in check before the abuse took place.
Dangers of Household Inhalants
While users might feel silly and happy when they’re under the influence of inhalants, very serious problems could be taking place just below the surface, and this could mean trouble for a person’s health. For example, in the short-term, people might develop:
- Hearing loss
Inhalants have also been associated with impaired decision-making, meaning that people under the influence could make terrible decisions without realizing that they aren’t behaving in a rational manner. This can, at times, lead to disaster. For example, in Arkansas, news reports suggest that a young man spent a portion of the day huffing gasoline from a car, and he splashed his clothing with the substance in the process. A sober person would understand, almost immediately, that this was a dangerous situation. The man, on the other hand, went inside the home to smoke, and the home burned down in the process.
It’s likely his gasoline-soaked clothes triggered the blaze, as the burning cigarette came into contact with the fumes from the spilled gasoline, although this is the sort of allegation that might take a long time to prove. In any case, it just demonstrates how serious this problem might be for people who choose to dabble in this dangerous practice. Their good judgment might be impaired, and disaster might follow. Inhalants have also been associated with damage to the liver and kidneys, and some people develop difficulties with muscle control and movement. Some users even develop long-term difficulties with memory.
Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse
In an article in The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers describe the case of a man who had cognitive testing and brains scans at age 16, before he used inhalants, and then again when he was 19 and had been using inhalants. His scores were much lower in the second test, and his brain cells were riddled with holes and deformations, clearly seen on the scans. It’s clear that the inhalants caused serious problems for this man, and that his brain simply isn’t the same. It could happen to anyone who abuses these drugs.
All of these side effects can sound frightening, but there is yet another danger of inhalants that might be right around the corner for anyone who abuses these drugs. That danger involves sudden death. Some inhalants can cause the heart to beat rapidly, and each beat may come a little too quickly or a little too late.
A heart that’s flailing out of control in this manner might simply stop altogether, and the person might die during this episode. Even those who don’t have a sudden heart problem due to inhalants might not be safe from problems either, as the methods people use in order to take in inhalants can also cause an end to life. Users who place bags over their heads may not get enough oxygen to nourish their cells, for example, while users who lose consciousness during an episode might crack their skulls in a fall. Death is a serious problem for anyone who abuses these drugs, and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon.
Inhaling and Polydrug Use
Some people use inhalants on an exclusive basis, finding one substance they love and using that substance whenever they need a little boost or kick. It’s far more common, however, for people to blend their use of inhalants with other substances of abuse. For example, in a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers found that 87 percent of adult inhalant users also had an addiction to alcohol, and 68 percent had a substance use disorder involving marijuana. Piling substances of abuse onto one another in this manner can be catastrophic, as these drugs tend to work on the same kinds of receptors and produce addictions in the same manner.
People who abuse inhalants and other substances may find that they develop so much damage due to their habits that they simply can’t stop. They just must abuse something, and they may move from leaning on one substance to another in a recurring pattern of misery. Similarly, some people abuse inhalants as a way to help them deal with an underlying mental illness. This is remarkably common, according to a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, as about 93 percent of those with inhalant disorders studied here also had some sort of mental illness. It’s very difficult to heal from an addiction when a mental illness is in the way, as these disorders tend to make clear thinking and goal setting impossible. The brain seems hardwired to ask for substances when the mental health symptoms arise, and the person may find it hard to avoid those deep-seated triggers for use.
Inhalants Are Addictive
If inhalants can be so dangerous, in both the long- and the short-term, some people may wonder why those who use can’t simply stop their habits and develop new ways of thinking and living. It would be ideal if people could do so, but unfortunately, many people who abuse inhalants find it almost impossible to stop. They’re always surrounded by substances they could put to nefarious use, and they may always feel as though a hit could allow them to feel just a little better and just a little more powerful. Overcoming this kind of defeatist thinking is best done with the help of a professional.
In a targeted program for inhalant addiction, the treatment team attempts to determine why the person feels the need to use and abuse drugs. They may perform mental health screenings, looking for hidden causes, or they may ask about the person’s lifestyle and history of other addictions. The treatment team might then help to pull together a program that could educate the person about the nature of addiction and help the person learn how to control the cravings that spur drug use. Programs like this can help people to develop a deeper understanding of their habits, and this might allow them to make the kinds of changes they thought were impossible when they were trying to handle the problem alone. If you need help with an inhalant issue, we hope you’ll contact us. The therapists at Futures of Palm Beach are adept at developing customized plans to help people with addictions, and we can even assist with problems that spring from mental illness.