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What Are Inhalants? Facts, Symptoms, Treatment

inhalant aerosol sprayFor many people, drugs are difficult, expensive, and risky to get. Instead, many teens and people on a budget start out experimenting with getting high using substances known as inhalants. These drugs, which include inhalable vapors and gasses that create a feeling of “high”, are mostly common household products. Many are available in grocery stores and have practical, everyday uses. And, with over 1,000 products used for the purpose, it’s difficult to blacklist any specific products.

Still, while inhalants are cheap and accessible, they’re often significantly dangerous. Most aren’t intended for or tested on humans. Many can also be directly linked to lung, tissue, and brain damage. That can make them significantly more dangerous than many more conventional drugs. That’s even true considering risk of addiction and overdose with conventional drugs and alcohol, because inhalants typically have to be taken again and again over short periods of time.

What Products Are Used as Inhalants?

Over 1000 different household and home goods products can be used as inhalants. Here, people take something and either inhale the fumes or the gas. This functions similarly to alcohol, causing intoxication and relaxation. But, unlike alcohol, most inhalants aren’t safe for even short-term use.

That’s because popular inhalants include toxic chemicals that work by shutting down bodily function. Most will also cause loss of consciousness if taken in sufficiently large quantities.

Some popular inhalants include:

  • hairspraySharpies (markers)
  • Propane
  • Gasoline
  • Kerosene
  • Non-Stick Cooking Spray
  • Hairspray
  • Shoe Polish
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Rubber Cement
  • Glue
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Acetone

In most cases, you can get all of those from a normal grocery store or Walmart. That makes it extremely difficult to tell if someone is buying them or not. And, it makes them very safe for even teens to have. For example, teens with boxes of sharpies do not look suspicious. And, most kids have access to glue and nail polish remover.

What do Inhalants Do?

Most inhalants function like anesthetic in that they reduce bodily function. The mechanism of doing so can vary from substance to substance. For example, nitrous oxide, which is sold in metal cannisters as an aerosol propellant for whipped cream and other foods. When inhaled, it causes euphoria and hallucinations – as well as a feeling of intoxication. At the same time, it can cause neurotoxicity and long-term neurological damage. Long-term exposure can also result in major vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as causing physical damage around the lips and nose. For example, individuals inhaling nitrous oxide can develop symptoms of frostbite around the limps, larynx, and bronchi if directly inhaled from the cannister.

Sharpies cause similar effects. People inhale them and experience light euphoria and dizziness. Here, users report light intoxication, lack of coordination, and slurring speech. But even markers aren’t safe.  In addition, the volatile organic compounds behind the high can cause brain damage, lung damage, and even sudden death syndrome.

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How are Inhalants Used?

sad young man wearing hoodieInhalants are most-often used by young people, especially those who want to start experimenting with drugs but who either can’t or who don’t want to take risks. Here, inhalants are largely regarded as “safe” intoxicants, because they aren’t addictive. In addition, with no legalist status, they don’t come with risks of fines or jail. That can make them much more accessible, even to older people looking for a way to get high.

Here, drugs are used by individuals alone and in group settings. For example, people often recreationally use nitrous oxide at parties. Cannisters of nitrous oxide are sold as “poppers” at concerts and parties – and can be inhaled directly from the cannister – with risks of frostbite symptoms.

Often, inhalants are moved to balloons, condoms, or other intermediary devices. These allow individuals to inhale the chemicals more safely. Others will spray their collar or a rag with an inhalant and then occasionally use it to cover their mouth and nose. This is known as “huffing”. Both practices are dangerous. However, the most dangerous practice is normally to inhale gas or an aerosol directly from the cannister.

In most cases, the immediate effects are similar to consuming a large amount of alcohol. However, the effects typically wear off in a few seconds. This means someone wishing to stay high will have to keep inhaling, over and over again throughout the night. This leads to increased risks of overdose and toxicity, especially if the drug itself doesn’t wear off before the symptoms do.

Recognizing Inhalant Use

People who use inhalants most-often act drunk. This means it can be extremely difficult to tell if they are drinking or using another intoxicant. However, there are very often tells around behavior that suggest that they are inhaling rather than drinking.

For example, people using inhalants very often get red or bleary eyes. Alcohol doesn’t usually cause red eyes.

Often, inhalants result in spots, stains, or sores around the nose and mouth. Even if people are using balloons or other in-between to make inhalants safer, they can still cause problems.

In addition, inhalants can cause breathing issues and a red or runny nose. Alcohol does not cause this.

Over time, inhalants also cause lack of appetite, nausea, increased anxiety, increased irritability, and increased excitability. One of the most common signs of prolonged inhalant usage is weight loss and muscle weakness, especially when combined with ongoing motor control reductions and depression.

Finally, many inhalants result in waste. Nitrous oxide cannisters are easy to spot. Someone buying a large number of markers should be questioned. And, glue and aerosols all take up space. If a teen or adult is buying things of this nature that they don’t normally use or going through a lot of them, it may be suspicious, especially if combined with other symptoms.

young female getting helpGetting Help

If you or a loved one is using inhalants, it’s important to take time to get help. Inhalants aren’t addictive like many other drugs. However, the behavioral reasons people stim or self-sooth or self-medicate with inhalants are treatable. Often, people using substances to get high are looking for escapism, to fit in, or to mask symptoms of stress, anxiety, or mental health disorders. Therapy and treatment can help to uncover those problems and can help you to learn coping mechanisms, to build behaviors, and to learn tools to improve life and social interactions without drugs.

Asana Recovery offers detoxresidential, and outpatient addiction treatment services at our center located in Orange County, California. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.