Inhalant abuse, also known as huffing, sniffing, dusting, and bagging, is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors from household or commercial products for the purpose of attaining an altered mental state. Huffing involves soaking a rag in chemicals and inhaling the vapors through the mouth. Huffing may also involve inhaling products directly from their containers through the mouth. Sniffing involves inhaling products through the nose directly from their containers. Sniffing may also be performed with clothing or rags saturated with chemicals.
Inhalant addiction and abuse is a very serious and under-recognized form of drug abuse that affects many adolescents, and it is related to numerous incidents of morbidity and mortality in school aged children and older. Studies have shown that 22.3 million Americans have abused inhalants at least once in their lives, and 15.7 percent of eight graders have used inhalants.
Even the single use of inhalants can result in serious injuries or other complications. The abuse of inhalants can have a very harmful short and long term effect on the body. Inhalant abuse increases the risk of the development of permanent organ damage or failure, severe neurological damage, asphyxiation from low oxygen levels, and death from cardiac arrest.
Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments available for inhalant addiction. It is important for the general public to be aware of the signs of inhalant abuse and addiction so that they can be proactive in getting treatment help for known addicts. Treatment of inhalant abuse at drug rehab centers can be effective at stopping inhalant abuse, and treatment may involve extended stays at a drug rehab center for detoxification, therapy, and supportive aftercare.
Types of Inhalants
There are at least four categories of inhalants that are agents for inhalant abuse. The categories are: volatile solvents, nitrites, gases, and aerosols. Among these four groups there are hundreds products and chemicals that may be used as agents for inhalant abuse.
Volatile solvents are liquids that become vaporized at room temperature. These can be fairly easily obtained and examples include paint thinners, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluids, permanent markers, and gasoline. Nitrites are a special class of inhalants used primarily as sexual enhancers and may be sold in small bottles labeled as “room odorizer,” “liquid aroma,” or “video head cleaner.”
Gases may include household or commercial products or medical anesthetics. They are found in whipped cream containers or products that increase octane levels in vehicles. Inhalant abuse of medical anesthetics may include chloroform, ether, nitrous oxide, and halothane. Aerosols are sprays that have propellants and solvents in them. These agents include spray paints, hair sprays, deodorants sprays, and cooking oil sprays.
Because of the vast variety of inhalants and the simplicity of purchasing many of them, they are easily obtained and may be purchased at various commercial outlets without any type of regulation. Inhalant addicts may purchase inhalants quite easily without suspicion. In many cases, inhalant addicts will rotate from store to store while purchasing large quantities of inhalants in order to avoid suspicion.
Signs of Inhalant Abuse
It is critically important for the friends and family of suspected inhalant abusers to be very aware of the signs of inhalant abuse. Sometimes the signs of inhalant abuse can be recognized clearly and sometimes abusers are good at masking the signs as well. The earlier that inhalant abuse is recognized the better, as early recognition can reduce the extent and duration of long term health damage associated with the abuse of inhalants.
Since there is no such thing as a typical profile of an inhalant user, signs for inhalant abuse should always be monitored. One clear way to recognize inhalant abuse is through the side effects that are noticeable in users who are high. The more noticeable effects of inhalants include impaired cognition, belligerence, dysfunction at work or school, nausea, and vomiting. Higher doses can cause delirium or confusion. Other reported effects include dizziness, slurred speech, slowed reflexes, muscle weakness, drowsiness, and more.
Inhalant abuse can be recognized through certain other habits such as collections of permanent markers, collections of computer duster spray cans or other types of spray cans for no apparent reason, stains of paint or residues of inhalant chemicals on the face, skin and clothing of a suspected user, and rags or clothing that are saturated with chemicals and hidden away from sight.
Dangers of Inhalant Abuse
Inhalant abuse is one of the most dangerous forms of drug abuse with several potentially dangerous immediate and long term effects. The products used for inhalant abuse provide users with a quick high that has a fast dissipation and fewer hangover symptoms as other drugs. Another unfortunate aspect of inhalant abuse is that many users are children or adolescents. This is partially due to how easy it is for children to obtain inhalant compounds as opposed to other drugs. The effects of inhalants are even more potent on children and adolescents whose bodies are still developing and more vulnerable to the toxic chemicals found in many inhalants.
Chemicals found in inhalants such as aerosols, solvents, and gases can produce many different potentially dangerous effects on the brain and body shortly after intake. The repeated use of inhalants is linked to long term damage of organs and the brain. High concentrations of toxic chemicals in solvents or sprays can lead to cardiac arrest within minutes of prolong sniffing. This is called “sudden sniffing death” which can result from a single session of inhalant abuse.
Inhalant abuse may also cause death through asphyxiation from repeated inhalations that reduce oxygen levels in the lungs, suffocation through bags that are used to cover the mouth and nose during inhalation of inhalants, seizures or convulsions from brain interactions with inhalants, choking from the inhalation of gastric contents after inhalant use, coma that results from the brain shutting down the body in response to inhalant use, and fatal accidents that result from inhalant intoxication while driving or operating dangerous equipment.
Studies on inhalants have also shown that they are extremely toxic to the brain and nervous system. For instance, some solvents destroy the protective sheaths around neurons and the brain and peripheral nervous system. This produces nerve destruction that is similar to what occurs in multiple sclerosis. There are other neurotoxic effects of inhalant abuse that can lead to long term damage in the parts of the brain involved in vision, hearing, cognition, and movement.
Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
Inhalant abuse treatment typically involves treatment at drug rehab centers since many centers are capable of treating inhalant abuse patients. There are typically a number of local drug rehab centers that treat a wide variety of drug addictions including inhalant addictions. Treatment is of the utmost concern for inhalant victims due to the risk of death occurring in just one session of usage.
Treatment may involve detoxification for physically addicted patients. Treatment is also behavioral in focus, and may involve 12 step meetings, counseling, group therapy, and outpatient counseling. Treatment differs from adolescents to adults. Adolescents are treated with a different focus by using counseling that is more targeted for the unique needs and circumstances of an adolescent. There may need to be emergency or outpatient medical treatment for patients that have serious health problems that result from inhalant abuse.
Those who are found to be intoxicated on inhalants should be treated as quickly as possible. Initial treatment may involve emergency room stabilization and treatment followed by drug rehabilitation. There may be a detoxification process which is typically performed under medical supervision. Medical professionals can provide medications to prevent serious detoxification effects such as seizures. The process of detoxification from inhalants may take up to a week or more depending on the patient. Symptoms of inhalant withdrawal may include sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, hand tremors, hallucination, and seizures.