In popular culture and the media, drug paraphernalia is often portrayed using the most common routes of administration. You might see pictures of empty prescription bottles, ash-covered pipes, or dirty syringes. These portrayals, however, miss one class of drugs that is often overlooked: inhalants.
Inhalants can be just as readily available as alcohol or other legal drugs. It is essential to highlight the many short-term and long-term negative effects of inhalant use in order to educate others on the dangers that they hold, regardless of how quickly they can be accessed.
What Are Inhalants?
The term “inhalant” is an umbrella term used to define a variety of substances that are administered through inhalation. Users of inhalants breathe in the fumes of particular substances through their nose or mouth. There are many different types of inhalants that all have different pharmacological and psychological effects.
Inhalants are any substance that produces chemical vapors, which in turn, can be inhaled to induce altered states of consciousness. The four general categories of inhalants include:
- Volatile solvents, which are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. Examples of volatile solvent inhalants include paint thinners, gasoline, glues, and felt-tip markers.
- Aerosols, which are pressurized sprays. Examples of aerosol inhalants include hair spray, spray deodorant, vegetable oil sprays, and spray paint.
- Gases, which typically involve medical anesthetics or gases used in certain household products. Examples of gas inhalants include nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” for medical anesthetics and propane or butane lighters for household products.
- Nitrites, which are best identified as sexual enhancers or pain relievers. While most inhalants act directly on the body’s central nervous system (CNS), nitrate inhalants dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles in the body. Examples of nitrate inhalants are found in leather cleaners, liquid aromas, and are also in medicines prescribed for chest pain.
How Do Inhalants Affect the Mind and Body?
Because of their route of administration, inhalants tend to produce quick, noticeable effects on the mind and body. Although the high that inhalants produce typically lasts minutes, many users will continue to inhale a given substance multiple times over several hours in an attempt to prolong their high.
Most inhalants affect the central nervous system and reduce activity in the brain. Short-term effects of inhalant intoxication mimic the effects of alcohol intoxication, including:
- Slurred or distorted speech
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired cognitive and behavioral functioning
- Temporary feelings of euphoria
- Motor skills, coordination, and control of body movement
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Potential belligerence or apathy
- Vomiting and nausea
With repeated use, users of inhalants are likely to experience loss of consciousness or feel like they are no longer in control. People may also experience significant detachment from reality, hallucinations, or delusions.
The long-term effects of inhalant use include:
- Brain damage due to the restricted flow of oxygen to the brain
- Brain damage causing delayed behavioral and cognitive development
- Nerve damage causing loss of coordination and muscle spasms
- Bone marrow damage
- Other organ damage, such as damage caused to the liver or kidney
Who Uses Inhalants?
Most people do not typically consider household products or other inhalants as drugs because these substances are not intended for use to get high. Inhalants are the only class of substance used more by the younger populations, with the most frequent users being kids and teens.
When parents think of substances to keep their young children away from, they may often consider alcohol or marijuana. It is important that parents recognize how easily inhalant substances are to access, especially as most people have typical cleaning products located somewhere in their home. Consider placing any harmful substances in areas that young children or curious teens will not be able to locate them.
Inhalant Addiction and Treatment
Although addiction to inhalants is rare, like any substance, inhalants have many addictive qualities. Repeated substance use of any kind can lead to addiction or substance use disorder. It is essential that you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of inhalant users so you are able to guide them to the support and treatment that they may need to recover.
Signs that someone may be using inhalants include:
- Chemical odors on clothing or on breath
- Drunk or distorted appearance without alcohol playing a factor
- Empty spray paint or solvent containers
- Paint or other unknown stains on face, hands, or clothing
There are many treatment options available for those looking, or needing, to recover from inhalant substance use. If you suspect your loved one interacting with inhalants, consider contacting a mental health or substance use professional for guidance.
Inhalants are a category of substances that can be inhaled to achieve various sensations of being high. Mostly used among adolescents and teens, inhalants are incredibly readily available as most inhalant substances come from household solutions, aerosols, and other products. There are significant short-term and long-term consequences of inhalant use that can impair cognitive and motor functioning as well as negatively impact overall well-being. West Coast Recovery Centers is a mental health and addiction treatment center located in Southern California. We specialize in all types of alcohol and drug addiction, including inhalant substances. We offer a variety of treatment therapy options, including both traditional and holistic treatment approaches. We understand that addiction is a complex and crippling experience that can cause severe mental distress. Let us help guide and support your recovery from substance use. Call us today for more information about the different programs and treatments we offer at (760) 492-6509.