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Inhalants are dangerous substances that are often used by children and young teens. Since they come packaged as everyday household products — such as cleaners, paint thinners, and felt tip markers — they are easily accessible to younger generations. The chemicals in these substances can lead to brain damage, loss of motor function, and even death. Knowing what inhalants are, how to spot their signs of use, and what treatment looks like can prevent lasting damage in those who use them. 

Identifying Inhalants and Inhalant Use

You likely have a handful of inhalants present in your home right now. Knowing what products can be used as inhalants will help you prevent and mitigate their effects if they are being used. Inhalants are defined as “volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, or mind-altering, effect.” 

Inhalants can be consumed in four forms: 

#1 Nitrites

Often considered their own special class of inhalants, nitrites primarily dilate blood vessels and relax muscles. As you will see, these work differently than other inhalants through their direct effect on the central nervous system. Instead of altering mood, they are used for sexual enhancement. While regulated, they may come packaged as: 

  • Leather cleaner
  • Liquid aroma
  • Room odorizer

#2 Gases

Medical anesthetics — such as chloroform or nitrous oxide, aka “laughing gas” — make up the majority of this inhalant class. Just because it’s classified as medical does not mean it isn’t readily present in your home. Nitrous oxide is commonly available in: 

  • Whipped cream canisters
  • Butane lighters
  • Propane tanks

#3 Aerosols

This class of inhalants is made up of sprays that contain propellants and solvents. Some examples include:

  • Spray paint
  • Hair spray
  • Deodorant
  • Cooking sprays
  • Fabric protector sprays

#4 Volatile Solvents

Finally, volatile solvents are liquids dissolving at room temperature. These can be found in: 

  • Paint thinners and removers
  • Gasoline
  • Glue
  • Dry-cleaning fluids
  • Degreasers
  • Felt-tip markers
  • Correction fluids

Effects of Inhalants

There is a slew of both short and long-term effects that may result from the use of inhalants. 

Short-term effects include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Excitability
  • Limited reflexes
  • Loss of self-control
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blacking out
  • Slurred or distorted speech

Chronic use of inhalants can cause significant damage to the body, leading to various long-term effects including:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of coordination
  • Limb spasms
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Delayed behavioral development
  • Brain damage

It is possible to overdose on inhalants, resulting in vomiting, nausea, loss of touch with reality, and unconsciousness.

Spotting Inhalant Use

Since the effects of inhalant use can be physically severe and can alter thinking and judgment, it is vital to know how to determine if they are being used. Inhalants reduce activity in the brain, so their use often resembles alcohol use. This includes slurred and distorted speech and impaired judgment and functioning. Additionally, it is not unusual to have clothing or breath that smells of solvents or experience headaches, sluggishness, apathy, drowsiness, or paint on the hands or face from an unknown source. 

Signs of addiction include craving the use of inhalants and their prioritization over daily activities or responsibilities. Using inhalants despite their long-term and short-term consequences is another strong sign you or someone you love may be addicted. Increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and increased efforts to acquire inhalants are other warning signs.

Understanding Treatment

Detox is often required for recovering from inhalant addiction. While not everyone has symptoms of withdrawal when detoxing, it is possible to experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and others. 

Following detox, treatment is highly recommended. Treatment options include inpatient — where the client stays in the facility through treatment — or outpatient programs. West Coast Recovery Centers offers both options to individuals seeking inhalant addiction recovery. The goal of treatment is to support you in learning to live without inhalants. 

In treatment, you will address your addiction and work to determine the root causes. You will learn to identify triggers and the emotions related to them. You will also establish new routines using coping skills and tools that will continue to support your sobriety. These tools may look like mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or creative therapies. They may include talk therapy with a professional or facilitated group therapy where you recover alongside others who are on their own recovery journey.

Undergoing treatment can be intimidating or uncomfortable. Know that treatment is meant to provide you with the skills you need for success throughout your lifelong recovery. Ultimately, the goal is to make it easier for you to live your life without relying on drugs to temporarily soothe your physical or mental health. 

Inhalants can alter thinking and judgment and leads to severe, lasting physical effects. In order to mitigate the impact of inhalant use, learning what inhalants are and whether they are accessible in your home is necessary. Since they are a class of drugs present in common household products, such as hair spray and cooking sprays, they are often used by children and teens against the instructions on the label. Keeping household inhalants inaccessible to younger generations is one step on the path to safety. It will also benefit you to know the signs and symptoms of inhalant use to help to keep your friends and family safe. If you or someone you love shows signs of inhalant use, West Coast Recovery Centers offers therapy and programs that will support recovery. Call (760) 492-6509 to learn more about inhalants and how to begin healing from the damage. 

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