- How Are Inhalants Used?
- Snorting & Sniffing
- Huffing Paint: Signs and Symptoms
- Huffing Paint
- Signs and Symptoms of Huffing Paint
- Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
- Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
- What Products Can Be Abused?
- Teenagers die after sniffing white-out
- HOW DO INHALANTS KILL?
- How Are Household Aerosol Sprays Abused?
- Sniffing, Bagging and Huffing: The Often Undetected Addiction
- The Dangers of Inhalants
- How Are Inhalants Abused?
- Who Abuses Inhalants?
- Recreational Use of Inhalants
- Signs of Inhalant Abuse
- Withdrawal from Inhalants
- Comprehensive Treatment
How Are Inhalants Used?
Inhalants contain toxic chemicals that cause psychoactive effects. People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes of these substances to get high. Inhaling a substance is as simple as holding it close to the face and breathing in.
But people who use the drugs have unique ways of inhaling them. Most methods of inhalant use prevent the substance from being wasted or force the substance to enter the body quickly.
In general, inhalant effects include excitement, dizziness and changes to perception. Different methods of inhalant abuse cause similar psychoactive effects, but the methods may cause unique side effects.
Snorting & Sniffing
Any inhalant can be snorted or sniffed, but few people snort or sniff sprays. To sniff an inhalant, a person puts a substance, such as correction fluid, nail polish or a marker, next to the nose and inhales. Sniffing and snorting require no additional equipment.
People who sniff or snort inhalants may have scabs or scars near their nostrils. Some substances can burn or inflame the nose, causing nasal damage. In addition to other health risks, snorting or sniffing can cause nosebleeds and loss of the ability to smell.
Bagging involves spraying a substance into a bag and inhaling the fumes. Almost any spray can be bagged, including aerosol deodorant, air freshener, computer duster and hairspray. Some people place the bag around the mouth. Others place a bag over the head and inhale.
Both methods of bagging are dangerous, but placing a bag over the head has an increased risk. Inhalants deprive the body of oxygen, and bagging adds an additional suffocation risk. Signs of bagging include plastic or paper bags and empty aerosol spray cans.
Huffing is another way people try to intensify the effects of inhalants. It involves soaking a rag in chemicals or spraying chemicals onto a rag. The rag is then placed over the mouth or nose. The rag is sometimes stuffed in the mouth and inhaled.
Like bagging, huffing can increase the risk of suffocation and asphyxiation. Individuals can choke on the rag or choke on vomit if the rag blocks the mouth. Any spray or liquid can be huffed. Signs of huffing include rags or towels smelling of chemicals.
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is the inhalant most commonly used for ballooning. Individuals release nitrous oxide from a canister — also known as a whippit — into a balloon. The person then inhales the gas from the balloon.
Ballooning causes intense effects because it’s difficult to control how quickly the gas leaves the balloon, according to Columbia University. The rush of nitrous oxide can also damage the lungs or cause frostbite. Signs of ballooning include empty balloons or balloons smelling of chemicals.
Dusting refers to spraying gas from a canister directly into the mouth or nose, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The nickname comes from aerosol dust removers used to clean computer keyboards. Dust removers are among the most commonly used inhalants.
Some people huff dust removers through towels in an attempt to limit the damage to the lungs, but there is no safe way to use the substance.
Like other forms of inhalant abuse, dusting is associated with sudden sniffing death syndrome. The technique grew in popularity during the late 2000s and became a common way to use inhalants, according to multiple media reports. As a result, reports of dusting deaths also surfaced during that time frame.
Large collections of empty computer duster cans are the primary signs of dusting.
Glading is similar to dusting. It involves inhaling air freshener sprays. The street name is derived from the popular air-freshener brand Glade. The pleasant smells of air fresheners do not mitigate the risks of inhaling the substances. A collection of air fresheners may be a warning sign of glading.
An abundance of chemicals can be abused to get high. Individuals use a variety of paraphernalia to abuse inhalants. They may use soda cans to store gases. Some people place chemical-soaked rags in toilet paper tubes and inhale through the tubes.
While inhalants can be abused in a variety of ways, there is no safe way to get high on the substances. Inhalant misuse is associated with dependence and addiction. It can also cause overdose deaths or other long-term health problems.
It’s important to educate teens about the risks of the substances and to intervene if inhalant abuse is suspected.
Huffing Paint: Signs and Symptoms
What is Huffing?
Huffing is a type of substance abuse that involves inhaling fumes from household substances in order to experience a high. Also known as sniffing or inhalant abuse, this practice is usually undertaken to feel euphoria or experience visions or hallucinations; however, it is an extremely risky form of substance abuse.
Spray paint and other paints are commonly used in huffing. Some of the toxic chemicals in paint provide an intense high that can be easily obtained by those who are otherwise unable to afford or get access to other drugs. However, huffing paint and other forms of inhalant abuse are extremely dangerous, causing multiple severe injuries and deaths every year.
Huffing is a generalized term that is often applied to various types of inhalant abuse. However, it also represents just one of the many ways Mayo Clinic describes in which inhalants are used to produce a high, including:
- Huffing: putting the substance in a cloth and pressing to the mouth
- Bagging: pouring the contents into a bag and inhaling through the bag opening
- Sniffing or snorting: inhaling the fumes directly from the container
- Spraying: just what it sounds like – spraying the substance directly into the nose or mouth
Huffing is most often used for paint, which can be sopped into the cloth from the can or sprayed into the rag using spray paint. The rag is then placed over the nose and mouth so the fumes can be inhaled.
The active chemical in huffing is toluene, a toxic chemical that, according to the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and initially appears to produce an excited and euphoric response.
Prevalence of Huffing Paint
Inhalant abuse is most common among children and youths who do not have the means to obtain other types of drugs. However, adults are also known to use inhalants to get high. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that about 527,000 people 12 or older reported using inhalants in 2015. The majority of these people were between the ages of 12 and 17, representing about 0.7 percent of those in this age range.
The percentage of these people that specifically huff paint is unknown; however, spray paint is one of the most popular substances to be inhaled. As toluene is the active chemical in paint, it causes an intense euphoric rush, according to Medscape, which accounts for the popularity of paint as an inhalant of abuse. From reports, silver and gold paints contain the highest levels of this chemical.
Signs and Symptoms of Huffing Paint
In addition, there are mental and physical signs to look out for, according to MedicineNet:
- Intoxication (similar to alcohol intoxication)
- Slurred speech or loss of coordination
- Chemical odors around the individual
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Loss of inhibition
- Irritability or moodiness
The most obvious sign that someone has been huffing paint is the paint itself, which might be found on the individual’s face. Paint or paint cans may be missing from the household supply, or paint-covered rags may be found hidden or in the trash. The person who is huffing may frequent hardware supply stores or have empty paint cans in their car or garage.
Dangers Associated with Huffing
According to a report from Medscape, inhalant abuse is extremely dangerous. Injury due to inhalant abuse occurs frequently, resulting in various types of damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain; these can result in hearing or vision loss or loss of coordination.
The incidences of death from inhaling fumes from paint and other substances total 100-125 per year. Death can result from:
- Asphyxiation: Sometimes, suffocation can occur if the person cuts off oxygen by bagging or otherwise cutting off oxygen. Similarly, if the inhalant replaces too high a volume of oxygen in the lungs, the individual can asphyxiate.
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSDS): This condition results from the extreme rush created by inhaling the toxic chemicals in paint and other substances. It is thought that this is caused by an adverse reaction to epinephrine in the body, resulting in sudden heart failure. SSDS can occur even with first-time inhalant abuse.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
In the short-term, the person who is huffing paint may develop redness in and around the eyes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the individual may also experience dizziness, confusion, lack of coordination, belligerence, lethargy, muscle weakness, and stupor as a result of inhaling toluene.
The article from the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research indicates that long-term toluene abuse can result in cognitive impairment, including inability to concentrate, lowered IQ, memory loss, and impaired judgment. Damage to the brain’s white matter can also occur, causing neurological problems. Liver toxicity, kidney damage, and heart failure are also often found in people who have engaged in long-term, chronic paint huffing.
For women who are pregnant, huffing paint can cause physical malformations and developmental damage in the fetus. This can also result in death of the fetus.
Is Huffing Paint Addictive?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, huffing paint can be addictive. Specifically, the extreme euphoric rush that occurs when inhaling toluene can become addictive, especially with repeated abuse.
An article from Science Blogs describes the fact that toluene acts on areas of the brain that control the pleasure response and the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with addiction to substances like nicotine and alcohol, among others. While the addiction mechanism is still not fully understood, the dopamine system appears to be involved deeply in the addictive response to substances.
Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
Emergency treatment may be necessary for people who have experienced acute inhalant intoxication by huffing paint. For chronic users, addiction treatment generally involves therapy and other education and instruction to help the individual learn to manage triggers and cravings for continued inhalant abuse. These therapies may include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Peer support or 12-Step groups
- Family therapy
- Relapse prevention education
- Motivational therapy
By fully engaging in these therapies and treatments, the individual can break the cycle of addiction to inhaling paint and avoid relapse to continued use of this dangerous illicit substance.
What Products Can Be Abused?
There are more than 1,400 items that can be used as inhalants. It is not practical to identify every one in this booklet, but the list below should educate you enough that you can identify products that can be used as inhalants in your home, business or other locations you visit.
- Correction fluid
- Computer duster
- White board cleaner
- Permanent markers
- Dry erase markers
- Rubber cement
- Spray adhesive
Personal care products
- Hair spray
- Nail polish remover
- Spray deodorant
- Pain relief spray
- Asthma spray
Home maintenance products
- Spray paint (especially gold or silver)
- Fabric protection spray
- Paint thinner
- Contact cement (Superglue)
- Paint remover
- Solvent-based caulking
- Insecticide spray
- Freon (refrigerant)
- PVC cement
- Spray lubricant (WD 40)
Other household products
- Fuel gas
- Lighter fluid
- Fire extinguishers
- Carburetor cleaner
- Air fresheners
- Cigarette or candle lighters
- Flat tire repair aerosol cans
- Air fresheners
- Spot removers
- Dry cleaning fluids
- Oven cleaner
- Furniture wax
- Dusting spray
- Shoe polish spray
- Leather cleaner
- Rust removers
- Whippets (nitrous oxide cartridges)
- Canned whipped cream
- Cooking oil spray
- Airplane glue
- Rubber cement
- Camping stove fuel
- Nitrous oxide
There are other inhalants that can be purchased at nightclubs or convenience stores.
- Amyl nitrite capsules, also called “poppers” or “snappers”
- Butyl nitrite products known as “Rush,” “Climax,” or “Locker Room.”
These may be used as part of sexual activity, especially between homosexual men.
Paraphernalia used when abusing inhalants
- Plastic bags
- Paper bags
- Toilet paper tubes stuffed with tissues
- Empty soda cans
- Empty perfume bottles
If you walk through your home, you will probably find these products everywhere. It would be very difficult to lock them all up. Your best tool to fight inhalant abuse is thorough education very early, before your child can start abusing these substances.
Teenagers die after sniffing white-out
NEW YORK — New Mexico health officials warn that teenagers who inhale fumes from typewriter correction fluid to get high run the risk of sudden death.
‘It’s something that school officials and public health officials should be aware of and should take action to warn children of possible consequences,’ said Dr. John E. Smialek, chief medical investigator for New Mexico.
Since 1979, five New Mexico teenagers who had inhaled correction fluid fumes died soon afterward, probably of heart failure, Smialek said in a telephone interview.
Once used as an anesthetic, the fluid in which the correction ingredient is dissolved seems to excite the nervous system and to cause the heart to beat irregularly, he said.
Witnesses to the deaths said the victims suddenly became very active after inhaling the fluid’s fumes, then ran around, collapsed and died.
‘Just because a person has used it once and doesn’t die from it, it doesn’t mean it won’t be fatal the next time it’s used,’ Smialek said.
Smialek and two colleagues reported on four of the deaths in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
The small quantities of solvent released during normal use should be safe, the researchers said. Teenagers concentrate fumes by saturating a rag with the fluid and inhaling through the rag as the solvent evaporates.
Gillette Co. in Boston, which makes one of the fast-drying correction fluids, receives reports of two to three deaths from the correction fluid a year.
On further investigation, however, it is sometimes unclear whether the company’s product was the cause of death, said David Fausch, Gillette’s vice president for corporate public relations.
‘Whether we can document it or not, we recognize there is a problem with abuse about this product and we’re very concerned about it,’ Fausch said in a telephone interview.
Recognizing the potential hazards, some manufacturers have strengthened their warning labels. Gillette has put mustard oil in its products to discourage intentional inhalation.
The products are commonly called white-out and are marketed as Liquid Paper, Wite-Out and Snopake.
HOW DO INHALANTS KILL?
No one can predict how much of an inhalant will kill. A young person can use a certain amount one time and seem fine, but his or her next use could be fatal.
The Texas Comission on Drugs and Alcohol Abuse reports the following ways that inhalant can kill.
Asphyxia – Solvent gases can cause a person to stop breathing from a lack of oxygen.
Choking – Users can choke on their own vomit.
Suffocation – This is more common among users who inhale from plastic bags.
Injuries – Inhalants can cause people to become careless or aggressive. This often leads to behaviours that can injure or kill, such as operating a motor vehicle dangerously or jumping from great heights. Teens can also get burned or even be killed if someone lights a cigarette while they are ‘huffing’ butane, gasoline or some other flammable substance.
Suicides – Coming down from an inhalant high causes some people to feel depressed, which may lead them to take their own lives.
Cardiac arrest – Chemicals from inhalants can make the heart beat very fast and irregularly, then suddenly stop beating. This is called cardiac arrest. One reason why this might happen is that inhalants somehow make the heart extrasensitive to adrenaline. (Adrenaline is a hormone that the body produces, usually in response to fear, excitement or surprise.) A sudden rush of adrenaline combined with inhalants can make the heart stop instantly. This ‘sudden sniffing death’ is responsible for more than half of all deaths due to inhalant abuse.
Another very real danger of inhalants is that they often lead young people to try other drugs whose effects are even more intense and last longer.
Excerpts reprinted with permission from Inhalant Abuse: Your Child and Drugs, Guidelines for Parents (Elk Grove Village: American Academy of Pediatrics, 1996)
How Are Household Aerosol Sprays Abused?
Many common household products are used for the purposes of getting high, especially by children and adolescents.
Products that are inhaled through the mouth and/or nose to produce mind-altering effects are termed inhalants.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which reported that close to 10 percent of the American population (of those aged 12 and older) have abused an inhalant drug at least once in their lifetime as of 2015. Almost 70 percent of those using them for the first time in the year leading up to the 2010 national survey were under the age of 18, NIDA further indicates. These products are commonly used by younger children, as 8th graders use them at higher rates than high school seniors.
Inhalants include a type of product called aerosols, which contain solvents and propellants. These products contain chemicals that are stored in a pressurized container, often a can of some kind; when activated, generally by the press of a button, they are propelled out. These products include hairspray, paints, fabric protector, cooking sprays, cleaning products, deodorant, and room deodorizers or air freshening sprays. They are cheap and easily accessible as most people have a variety of aerosols already in their homes.
These drugs are abused by a variety of methods, including:
- Snorting or sniffing
With huffing, a rag or washcloth is soaked with an aerosol inhalant product and then pressed to the mouth to be breathed in. Individuals will hold the soaked rag to their face and breathe deeply to inhale the fumes.
People may also soak their collars, cuffs, or shirtsleeves with these products to continually huff throughout the day.
- Aerosol sprays can also be sprayed into the air and then snorted or sniffed into the nose, or sprayed into a paper or plastic bag before inhaling the fumes, practice termed bagging. They may also be sprayed into another container, like a soda can, and then inhaled from that. When an aerosol spray is sprayed directly into the mouth or nose, it is called spraying. With this method, individuals may place the nozzle of the spray directly into the mouth before depressing the button to propel the chemicals.Aerosol spray abuse may be physically recognizable, as these products often leave a residue behind on a person’s clothes, mouth, nose, or face. They can also cause rashes on the face or skin. Empty spray bottles, smelly rags, empty paper or plastic bags, and a lingering chemical odor may be further evidence of inhalant abuse.
- Hoarseness, sore throat, or trouble speaking
- Symptoms like asthma or allergies, including difficulty breathing through the nose or mouth
- Coughing a lot for no discernible reason
- Rashes or redness on the face, especially around the nose or mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
All of these methods of inhalant abuse send the mind-altering chemicals quickly into the bloodstream, creating a sense of euphoria that, according to Mayo Clinic, typically lasts about 15 minutes to a half-hour.
Aerosol sprays are inherently poisonous and inhaling them can be dangerous. The National Capital Poison Center warns that even one-time abuse of an aerosol inhalant can cause “sudden sniffing death,” which is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, leading to an irregular heartbeat and other complications. Abusing aerosol sprays can have both sudden and long-term consequences, including organ, nerve, muscle, and brain damage. It can also lead to addiction.
All substance abuse is dangerous, but one of the most immediately life-threatening forms is inhalant abuse. These chemicals are not for human consumption; they are instead designed as cleaners, paints, lubricants for machine parts, and for other uses. They are toxic to the human body and can cause immediate death after even one instance of abuse.
It is important to understand more about household aerosol sprays and other kinds of inhalants to prevent this dangerous form of substance abuse.
What Is ‘Dusting’?
People who abuse inhalants have several terms for the experience, depending on what product is being abused and how it is being inhaled. Dusting specifically refers to spraying aerosol keyboard cleaner into a bag or onto a cloth and then inhaling it. Dusting hit a peak of popularity among adolescents ages 12-17 in 2008, according to an article from the Seattle Times, when 2.1 million kids used an inhalant, often computer keyboard cleaner, to get high.
What’s the Difference between a Solvent and a Propellant?
While solvents and propellants are common household chemicals, often used for cleaning or air freshening, they are applied differently when used as recommended. Solvents dissolve liquids or solids, like paint, grease, or dirt stains, for the purpose of cleaning; propellants are a wider range of chemicals, which are propelled out of their container using pressure. Propellants include aerosol sprays, spray paint, or air freshener.
A person struggling with inhalant abuse may apply these chemicals to a rag, dump them into a bag, or apply them to a surface, and then sniff the fumes. Propellants may, in a very dangerous manner, be applied directly into the nose or mouth.
What Is a ‘Whippet’ or ‘Whip-It’?
The generally accepted spelling for this illicit abuse of nitrous oxide is whippet, but it is sometimes found under the spelling whip-it, since the canisters are found in whipped cream cans. Steel cylinders full of nitrous oxide power industrial or restaurant whipped cream canisters, so these containers may be cheap or easy to find. Nitrous oxide is also associated with sedatives for dental work, sometimes called laughing gas.
The contents of the canister are expelled into the person’s mouth, forcing the gas into their lungs so they experience a rapid, short-lived euphoria. This is a very dangerous process, and many people have been hospitalized for abusing nitrous oxide in this manner.
What Kind of Comedown Happens with Aerosol Abuse?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that coming down from abusing inhalants, including aerosols, is similar to an alcohol-induced hangover. Sometimes, the symptoms of aerosol abuse seem like a serious cold or the flu. Residual effects from inhaling toxic substances include:
Sniffing, Bagging and Huffing: The Often Undetected Addiction
As the parent of a teen it seems that there are so many different issues that you need to discuss, monitor and be aware of. While often parents focus on the use of illegal drugs or the misuse of prescription medications, there are a huge number of common household substances that can be even more dangerous and addictive.
Historically huffing, the inhalation of chemical or substance fumes, was considered a hard core addict’s behavior often when other types of substances were not available. Now, however, huffing is much more popular with teens as a way to get high using easily available common, completely legal products. Huffing or sniffing typically involves spraying or pouring the substance on a rag or a cloth and then holding that to the nose. The soaked cloth can also be placed in the mouth.
Sniffing is typically denoted as inhalation right from the container but it can also be used to indicate huffing. Bagging is slightly different in that the fumes from the substance are trapped in a bag or the chemical or product is sprayed into a bag, typically a paper bag, and then held to the face and the fumes inhaled.
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Common household products that are used for huffing, sniffing and bagging include:
- Spray paint
- Aerosol dusting products and cleaners
- Computer cleaners in aerosol form
- Glue and glue products
- Spot removers for fabric cleaning
- Spray or liquid fabric cleaners
- Cleaning chemicals for bathrooms or kitchens
- Nail polish remover
- Paint and varnish removers
- Lighter fluids
- Air conditioning fluid
- Some types of aerosol food products such as cooking spray or whipped cream
- Sharpie pens, art supplies and liquid ink
- White-out and other types of correction fluids
Parents need to carefully monitor their teen’s behavior and use or purchases of these types of products. Typical signs to watch for that may indicate a teen is engaging in huffing or similar types of substance abuse include:
- Sores and irritated skin around the mouth and nose that may actually look like minor burns or like a rash
- Confusion, disorientation, irritability and inability to focus or carry on a discussion
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and vision problems
- Tremors or shaking, muscle weakness
- Extreme fatigue
- Depression, despondency and isolation
Parents should be proactive about talking to their teens and seeking immediate medical help and abuse treatment if huffing is suspected. This is a deadly and very serious addiction that can be fatal even with the first try.
The Dangers of Inhalants
Inhalants make up a category of drugs that are inhaled into the lungs – either directly via spraying or indirectly with paraphernalia, such as a rag that is soaked in the inhalant – in order to achieve a high.
Inhalant abuse is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten drug epidemic,” because millions of Americans have abused these substances at some point in their lives; however, the consequences of this kind of drug abuse are not reported as widely as the consequences of other drugs like cocaine or prescription painkillers.
The term inhalants covers a range of dangerous and addictive substances, from nitrous oxide to hairspray. Some inhalants are drugs with other medical uses, but many are legal household substances with intoxicating chemicals that can be abused for a temporary high. These chemicals are extremely dangerous and can even be deadly. Inhalants include:
- Volatile solvents : chemicals that become vapor or gas at room temperature, including glue, lighter fluid, felt-tip markers, paint thinners, or dry-cleaning fluids
- Aerosols : spray deodorants, insect repellent, hair spray, or cooking oil sprays
- Gases : most typically nitrous oxide, which can be obtained through dental supply stores or via empty whipped cream canisters, but also includes propane tanks, lighters, and refrigerator canisters
- Nitrites : isoamyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite, or cyclohexyl nitrite, typically used for medical procedures or to treat chest pains
How Are Inhalants Abused?
Inhalant abuse is often referred to as huffing, because inhalants are breathed into the lungs either by spraying them into the nose, or by soaking a piece of cloth and holding the cloth up to the face. Other methods for abusing inhalants include:
- Sniffing or snorting, in which fumes are inhaled directly from the container
- Bagging, in which the inhalant is soaked into a bag, then the fumes are inhaled
- Spraying, typically for aerosols, in which the inhalant is sprayed directly into the nose or mouth
- Inhaling, which involves putting the inhalant into a balloon, then inhaling the substance through the mouth out of the balloon
The euphoric “high” from inhalants typically lasts 15-30 minutes.
Who Abuses Inhalants?
According to a 2011 study, about 9 percent of the US population has used, abused, or become addicted to inhalants at some point in their lives – that is about 22.5 million people in the United States. Because many of these substances are legal household items, the most at-risk group for inhalant abuse and addiction is adolescents, under the age of 18. In one survey of people who had used inhalants for the first time in the prior 12 months, around 68 percent of these new users were under the age of 18. In another survey, 58 percent of people who abused inhalants started doing so by the end of 9 th grade. A third study found that around 20 percent of middle and high school students had abused inhalants at some point.
The mean age of first inhalant use or abuse is 13 years old in the US, with white and Hispanic children more likely to struggle with abuse and addiction problems involving inhalants than other socioeconomic groups. Inhalant abuse most often begins before tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other substance abuse.
Another group at risk for becoming addicted to inhalants – especially nitrous oxide – are dentists and dental hygienists. Although substance abuse and addiction risks are based on a variety of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors that are still being studied, those who work in the dental field and have this combination of substance abuse risk factors are more likely to struggle with addiction to nitrous oxide, because of access to this drug. Nitrous oxide is used in dental applications as a sedative for oral surgery, such as during wisdom teeth removal surgery. According to a study from the ADA Dentist Health and Awareness Committee, around 5 percent of dentists with substance abuse issues abuse nitrous oxide.
Recreational Use of Inhalants
There is no medical reason, such as a prescription, that could lead to addiction to or abuse of inhalants. Nitrous oxide is used specifically as a sedative for surgical reasons, so it is extremely unlikely to be prescribed the substance outside of one-time use for surgery. Other inhalants, such as hairspray, lighter fluid, and other household items, are obviously only abused for recreational purposes, as there is no legitimate reason to inhale these substances.
Intoxication lasts up to 30 minutes for most inhalants, so people who abuse these substances often inhale several times over several hours in order to prolong this high. Inhalants are typically “highly lipid soluble,” meaning that they can easily pass through the alveoli in the lungs and into the bloodstream, then through the blood into the brain. It is unusual for drugs to so easily pass through the blood-brain barrier, so very high levels of inhalants can gather in the brain rapidly.
Because many of these substances are toxic and should not be used in the human body, these individuals are at a great risk of severe physical damage and death. At the least, a session of inhalant abuse can lead to extreme drowsiness for hours or perhaps a day, along with a lingering headache.
Signs of Inhalant Abuse
Most inhalants are central nervous system depressants, or CNS depressants, so signs of an inhalant “high” are similar to alcohol or opioid intoxication. However, nitrites are stimulants, and can cause hallucinations or excitement similar to signs seen with cocaine intoxication. Typical signs of inhalant abuse include:
- Paint or chemical smell on clothing, skin, or breath
- Stains from paints, solvents, or other chemicals on the hands or face
- Slurred speech
- Acting drunk or disoriented
- Loss of inhibition or motor coordination
- Exhausted or fatigued for several hours without cause
- Drowsiness or nodding off during conversation
- Nausea or vomiting
- “Glue sniffer’s rash,” found around the nose or mouth
- Hiding paraphernalia like used rags, tissues, bags, and empty cans
Withdrawal from Inhalants
Like any other addictive substance, inhalants can lead to withdrawal symptoms if a person stops abusing them after periods of chronic use. These symptoms include:
- Rapid pulse
- Panic, anxiety, and mood swings
- Shaking or tremors
- Nausea or vomiting
- Physical and emotional agitation
- Grand mal seizures (falling down, convulsions, loss of consciousness, loss of bowel and bladder control)
Medical care should be sought to ensure the person’s safety during the withdrawal process.
Other Drug Types
- Synthetic Cannabinoids
- OTC Medication
Dangers of Abusing Inhalants The biggest danger of using or abusing inhalants is death. Sniffing or huffing toxic chemicals like glue or paint thinners can lead to death the first time the chemical is used, or the individual can die from complications years later. People who abuse inhalants can suffer heart failure due to tissue death or overstimulation of the muscle, or they can suffocate because inhalants are absorbed in the lungs faster than oxygen and end up displacing oxygen. Sudden heart failure due to inhalant abuse is known as sudden sniffing death syndrome, and it can occur with first-time use. Once inhalants have built up in the brain, breathing, heart function, and other vital bodily functions can cease, leading to coma or death. Brain damage from the buildup of toxic substances can severely reduce quality of life and lead to early death as well. Short-term dangers of inhalant abuse include:
- Emotional changes, such as aggression, belligerence, apathy, depression, or irritability
- Impaired judgment or function in social groups
- Muscle weakness
Long-term effects of inhalant abuse can include:
- Vision or hearing loss
- Heart problems including fluid buildup, heart rhythm changes, or irregular heartbeat
- Brain damage
- Kidney or liver damage and failure
- Oxygen depletion, and inability to reabsorb oxygen
- Bone marrow damage
Because many people begin abusing inhalants at a young age, people struggling with inhalant addiction are more likely to drop out of school compared to those who do not abuse inhalants. Many children and teenagers who begin to abuse inhalants are also likely to try or become addicted to other drugs later in life, like tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and opioid drugs.
Although there are few centers in the United States that specialize in treating inhalant abuse or addiction, most addiction treatment programs can address inhalant abuse and addiction issues. Inpatient rehabilitation can be ideal for people who suffer from inhalant addiction, since medical help for withdrawal symptoms is available, along with individual and group therapy.
One of the long-term effects of inhalant abuse includes psychosis. This can be triggered in people who already have a psychological or genetic inclination toward developing psychiatric problems. It’s important that any chosen treatment program is equipped to treat this mental health condition, as well as any co-occurring medical or mental health issues that may be present in the individual seeking care. The program should have a supervising physician on staff to prescribe medications as needed.
Other side effects of long-term addiction to or abuse of inhalants include seizures, muscle weakness, and chronic pain. These issues can be treated with mild pain relievers, or carbamazepine, an anti-seizure medication.
While medications can be useful in treatment, they should be used alongside talk therapy and other complementary therapies, ensuring comprehensive treatment for the person in need. Therapy can help the individual discover underlying psychological reasons for the addictive behaviors, and learn new methods for dealing with life stresses, as well as future cravings for inhalants or other drugs.
Inhalant abuse is a serious but unreported problem in the US that particularly affects children and teenagers. Because of the toxic dangers of many inhalants, it is important for people who struggle with abuse of these substances to seek help as soon as possible. Parents can keep an eye out for signs of inhalant abuse in their children, so they can seek professional help as soon as possible if needed.