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Inhalant Addiction

Addiction is a serious brain disorder that causes maladaptive behaviors, serious medical conditions, potential legal issues, financial hardships, broken relationships and psychological illnesses. Whether it is addiction to illegal drugs, prescription pills or alcohol, addiction often can be life-threatening through overdose or serious medical conditions, such as HIV and hepatitis.

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Inhalant abuse: When common household substances become life threatening

A dangerous trend seems to exist among adolescents, involving the inhalation of common household products. Because these items are easily acquired and accessed, many youngsters mistakenly assume that inhaling them does not constitute substance abuse. But, this is a misconception that can have serious and even fatal consequences.

Inhalants are breathable, chemical vapors that can have mind altering effects. They are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning that they are gases that are produced from the liquid or solid state of natural substances.

Common inhalants include permanent markers, paint and spray paint, household cleaning supplies, glue, air freshener, gasoline, cooking spray, nail polish remover, whip cream canisters and thousands of other products. Since, these substances are legal, these can be purchased at local drug stores, home stores and grocery stores, which, in turn, makes them widely accessible.

Some of the common chemicals that are found in inhalants are trichloroethylene, toluene, nitrous oxide, hexane, methylene chloride, nitrites and benzene.

Who is prone to inhalants abuse?

 Children and adolescents are the ones who commonly inhale these household substances. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at least 9.60 percent of individuals above 12 years of age abuse inhalants during their lifetime.

Some of the common inhalants that are used to get high are huffing, sniffing, dusting or bagging. Often, a wash cloth, shirt sleeve or some sort of cloth is soaked with the inhalant, and the substance is then placed close to the face and inhaled. Sometimes paper or plastic bags are used with the inhalant.

Symptoms of inhalants abuse

Studies have shown that inhalants act to depress the central nervous system (CNS) in a manner similar to classified CNS depressants such as opioids. Animal models and studies have shown that toluene, a solvent found in many common household products, activates dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for causing an addiction. Since these inhalants resemble a depressant such as alcohol, the initial symptoms of inhalants abuse include excitability and euphoria, followed by drowsiness and depressive symptoms.

Since, inhalants abuse can also lead to the abuse of other illicit drugs, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse so that those who misuse such substances can receive treatment and break free from addiction.

  • Drowsiness
  • Belligerence
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Flushness of skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations

There are certain other symptoms of inhalants abuse that can result in the death of a person. This includes:

  • Choking
  • Suffocation
  • Seizures
  • Asphyxiation

Sudden sniffing death can also occur after one episode of inhaling these household chemicals. Death can also result from cardiac arrhythmias especially from butane, propane and chemical aerosols.

Symptoms of inhalants withdrawal

Withdrawing from inhalants is risky and can lead to the development of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Agitation
  • Chills
  • Tremors

Treatment for inhalants abuse

Inhalants abuse refers to the sniffing of common household and office products to get “high.” Recognizing the signs of inhalants abuse and seeking treatment is vital so that both the mental and physical health of the individual can be restored.

Unfortunately, there is no remedy that can alleviate the signs and symptoms of inhalant addiction, nor is there a specific medication that can treat inhalant addiction itself. Therefore, it is important to conduct a full medical examination of the person and assess any kind of organ damage before beginning with the treatment process for inhalant abuse.

Inhalants are fat-soluble chemicals, meaning that they are stored in fat cells throughout the body. These tend to stay in body organs for long periods of time, potentially creating excessive damage. Therefore, a thorough examination of school records and neuropsychological testing should be performed to assess cognitive decline. A follow-up in a few months may be necessary to measure improvement in cognition once the person has undergone a detoxification treatment and the inhalant has been cleared from the body completely.

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