Although inhalant addiction is a less common form of the disease, it still does exist throughout the United States and beyond. These poisonous gases are designed for industrial work and can lead to severe physical and mental health problems. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a staggering 9.8 percent of adults ages 18-25 make up the most frequent users of inhalants. Other studies have highlighted 10-grade children (6.1 percent) will experiment with the gases as well. In addition, when students reach the eighth grade, 1 in 5 of their classmates have already experimented with inhalants.

Inhalants come in various forms, such as aerosols, gases, solvents, and nitrates. As far as we can see in our human history, inhalant abuse has been prevalent, which dates back to Babylonian times. During Prohibition in the United States, ether was a common intoxicant that individuals used to satisfy their alcohol cravings. It wasn’t until later, however, that inhalants made their stain on society.

While inhalants are not recognized as primary sources of addiction, the drug still causes problems in our communities for children and young adults. Inhalants can be commonly used household items that are used to achieve an intoxicated state. Use in the general population is technically low, but due to the availability of the drugs at local stores, it makes them even more dangerous. There have been various studies that show children in homeless populations around the globe are the most susceptible to using inhalants.

The most common inhalant is amyl nitrite and fluorinated hydrocarbons, which are better known as “poppers” or “whippets.” The drugs can be easily purchased at tobacco stores or gas stations. They are commonly marketed to the public as whipped cream chargers. It highlights how easily anyone can obtain these, and we must focus more on regulating these products and keep them out of our children’s hands.

What Are Inhalants and How Are They Misused?

When we utter the word “inhalant,” it can have various meanings. In the case of inhalant addiction, we are talking about inhaling a solvent or other material that produces vapors that someone inhales for a buzz. They are found in many household products that serve a legitimate purpose, but unfortunately can still be abused. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition highlights that children have found that these popular products are not only inexpensive to buy, but also easy to hide. Glue and paint are the most accessible products to use, but thousands of other household chemicals possess the same problems.

Inhalants produce intense mind-altering effects that cause terrible side effects. Some of these include apathy, belligerence, impaired functions, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It creates a very intense high, which causes walking to become weakened and even dangerous.

There are many ways inhalants affect the human body, but the leading cause of death comes from trauma immediately after it has been consumed. Reports show that the ice-cold gases freeze your lungs, but the leading cause of death results from falls due to the user losing consciousness. Other common ways inhalants cause death include Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome and seizures.

Inhalants work similarly to other illicit drugs in that they activate dopamine receptors. The one difference between inhalants and other drugs, however, is that inhaling the substance one time can be fatal. Brain damage has also been linked to long-term use, and someone can reduce damage to their body by immediately seeking help.

What Are the Effects of Inhalant Abuse?

Close up of single male teenager inhaling narcotics from plastic re-sealable bag on his mouth

As we discussed earlier in the article, what stands out to teens and young adults about inhalants is how easily it can be hidden. Identifying an addiction to inhalants is not always easy, but as the addiction progresses, more signs will be identifiable. These can develop in a few ways, which include:

As the addiction progresses, using the drug will become more important in a person’s life. The signs will become easier to spot, and while inhalants can be hidden easier than other drugs, there are long-term consequences that involve:

As with any disease, early detection is the key to saving a life. If you or anyone you know is exhibiting any of the symptoms above, you must talk to a medical professional about your options.

The Inhalant Rehab Process

Addiction is a disease with no cure, but treating the issue allows a person to regain control of their lives after substance abuse. Treatment will establish tools and guidelines that will enable the person to manage triggers in their daily lives.

Most treatment centers will not specialize in inhalant abuse, but there are a select few equipped to handle the complex issues that come with inhalant addiction. Users are often given a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency that includes mental illness.

Before entering a treatment facility, the person must go through a thorough exam to discuss any potential complications to their body. It may include central nervous system damage, lead poisoning, kidney and liver irregularity, nutritional problems, and heart and lung distress. 

Once the evaluation is complete, the individual will learn how the chemicals are stored within fatty tissues of our body, which causes residual effects for extended periods. A person going through inhalant treatment must be placed in a residential treatment facility to manage their symptoms.

Once the former user is committed, they will work directly with a counselor to initiate a treatment plan. It will involve support groups and other additional therapies geared toward maintaining long-term sobriety.

Inhalant Withdrawal

Did you know that one of the most dangerous drugs of abuse might be in your home or garage right now?

Inhalants represent a wide variety of chemicals that can have psychoactive effects when inhaled without needing a heat source. Inhalants are one of the most easily attainable drugs of abuse because they often come in the form of common household and industrial solvents and aerosol sprays. Because they are so easy to get, they are often used by children and teens that are seeking an exploratory high.

However, inhalants can be extremely dangerous. Inhalant use is associated with several serious consequences, including asphyxiation, mouth and throat burns, convulsions, coma, injuries, and sudden death.

Inhalants aren’t known to have a high potential for chemical dependence, but it can happen with frequent use. This can lead to some pretty disturbing withdrawal symptoms. If you or a loved one has been using inhalants, it’s important to know the risks. Learn more about inhalant withdrawal and how addiction can be treated.

Inhalant Withdrawal Symptoms

The effects of an inhalant in your body can vary depending on the specific type of inhalant you’ve been using. Because inhalants aren’t likely to be chemically addictive, sometimes they don’t cause any significant symptoms after you quit. Psychological dependence on a chemical might cause anxiety or irritability when you stop using.

However, it is possible to develop a tolerance to certain inhalants with frequent use, and in some cases, people will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they stop using abruptly.

In cases where inhalants cause withdrawal symptoms, they are often compared to the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol or other depressants. However, withdrawal symptoms are unlikely to cause seizures or delirium tremens like alcohol can.

Symptoms of an inhalant withdrawal can include:

It’s recommended that inhalant withdrawal be taken seriously and that you go through it in a controlled setting. If you believe that you might experience withdrawal symptoms, speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

Inhalant Withdrawal Timeline

Why Should You Detox?

Inhalants are unpredictable for multiple reasons. People may react to them differently, and there are several varieties of solvents and compressed inhalants that people use. If you’ve been using one of these volatile substances, your experience with withdrawal may be difficult to anticipate. Plus, inhalant use can come with several health risks that may need to be addressed by a professional.

Even though withdrawal symptoms are rare, and they aren’t likely to be as dangerous as the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol or benzodiazepines, they could cause uncomfortable and disturbing symptoms.

Hallucinations and delusions can be dangerous if you go through them on your own. In some cases, they can lead to panic or aggression that can cause injury. 

Nausea, vomiting, and sweating can potentially lead to dehydration, which can lead to serious complications. Drinking plenty of fluids can combat dangerous dehydration. If you are unable to get up and drink or don’t have access to water, you may be at risk.

Finally, changes in your heartbeat and blood pressure can be risky for some people, especially those who have co-occurring heart conditions. Symptoms like tachycardia can be dangerous for people with cardiovascular diseases or similar vulnerabilities.

The safest way to go through inhalant withdrawal is to go through a medical detox program with 24-hour monitoring. 

What Are the Inhalant Withdrawal Treatment Steps?

When you enter addiction treatment, you will go through an intake and assessment process that is able to help you find the best treatment for your specific needs. Clinicians are likely to use an assessment called the ASAM Criteria, a set of six factors that should be considered when recommending any particular level of care in treatment.

The six factors include intoxication and withdrawal potential, biomedical conditions, psychological conditions, readiness to change, relapse potential, and your recovery environment. If you have high-level medical needs or if you are likely to go through serious withdrawal symptoms, you may be placed in a medical detox program.

Medical detox offers 24-hour medically managed addiction treatment each day. Detox allows your body to readjust its brain chemistry without the drug in your system. Through detox, medical professionals can treat symptoms of withdrawal and help you avoid potentially dangerous complications. Detox can also help to treat other medical conditions and complications that may need to be addressed alongside substance use problems.

After you complete medical detox, if you still have significant medical needs, you may continue on to an inpatient or residential treatment program. Inpatient programs include 23-hour medical monitoring or clinically managed treatment. This is a slightly less intensive level of care when compared to detox, but it still involves 24-hour care from medical staff. At this level, you may begin to address the deeper underlying issues of your addiction while you continue to have medical and clinical support.

Once you’re ready to live on your own, you may move on to an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP). At this level of care, you will attend treatment during the day and live at home at night.

IOP requires the attendance of at least nine hours every week, but it will most likely be more when you are early in your treatment process. Partial hospitalization falls under the category of IOP, and it involves more than 20 hours of treatment services per week.

Outpatient treatment, the lowest level of care in addiction treatment, involves fewer than nine hours of treatment services per week. Though it’s less intensive than other levels, it’s an important step between higher levels of care and complete independence.

Why Should You Seek Treatment?

Inhalants represent an extremely dangerous form of drug use. Different chemicals can cause serious side effects, some of which can be deadly. Addiction is a chronic condition that often gets worse if it’s ignored. Though inhalants aren’t normally chemically addictive, each use is dangerous, and substance use disorders often lead to the use of other drugs.

Addressing a substance use problem as early as possible may mean avoiding some of the most unpleasant consequences of drug abuse like long term health problems. Learn more about inhalant addiction today to take your first steps toward lasting freedom from active addiction.