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Inhalants Abuse Symptoms and Effects

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalants include common household products, such as glues, hair sprays, paints, and lighter fluid, which can be used by individuals to get high. The warning signs of inhalant abuse are similar to indicators that one is under the influence of alcohol. Key signs include:

  • slurred speech
  • lack of coordination
  • euphoria
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • hallucinations
  • delusions

Chemicals found in different types of inhaled products may produce a variety of symptoms during and after usage. Repeated inhalant abuse may result in symptoms such as:

  • loss of inhibitions
  • lack of control
  • periods of drowsy feelings that last several hours
  • lingering headache
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • vomiting

What Are the Effects of Inhalants Abuse?

Inhaling highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can cause heart failure and death within minutes after repeated inhalation. This syndrome, known as sudden sniffing death, can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy person. In the case of an inhalant addiction where inhalants are used repeatedly, this risk increases substantially.

Many people inhale vapors from common inhalants, referred to as huffing, not knowing that serious health problems can result. Harmful, and potentially irreversible, side effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • hearing loss (spray paints, glues, dewaxers, dry-cleaning chemicals, correction fluids)
  • peripheral neuropathies resulting in difficulty with moving hands and feet or limb spasms (glues, gasoline, whipped cream dispensers, gas cylinders)
  • central nervous system or brain damage (spray paints, glues, dewaxers)
  • bone marrow damage (gasoline)
  • liver and kidney damage (correction fluids, dry-cleaning fluids)
  • blood oxygen depletion (varnish removers, paint thinners)

The process of abusing inhalants displaces air in the lungs and deprives the body of oxygen. This results in a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia can damage cells in the brain. The symptoms of brain hypoxia vary depending on which regions of the brain are affected. As an example, the hippocampus is an important brain area for memory that is very sensitive to hypoxia. So someone who repeatedly abuses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations if her hippocampus is damaged.

Long-term inhalant abuse can also destroy myelin, a fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. As myelin helps nerve fibers carry their messages quickly and efficiently, its break down can lead to muscle spasms and tremors or even permanent difficulty with basic actions such as walking, bending, and talking.

High concentrations of inhalants may also cause death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs, causing the user to lose consciousness and stop breathing. Deliberately inhaling from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area greatly increases the chances of suffocation.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are a diverse group of substances whose chemical vapors can be inhaled to produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. While other abused substances can be inhaled, the term inhalants is used to describe substances that are rarely, if ever, taken in any other way. A variety of products common in the home and workplace contain substances that can be inhaled to get high; however, people do not typically think of these products as addictive drugs because they were never intended to induce intoxicating effects.

Inhalants typically found in a home environment include volatile solvents and aerosols. Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature and include:

  • paint thinners or removers
  • degreasers
  • lighter fluid
  • correction fluid
  • felt-tip marker fluid
  • electronic contact cleaners
  • glue

Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents are among the most commonly abused inhalants. Examples include products such as:

  • spray paints
  • hair or deodorant sprays
  • fabric protector sprays
  • aerosol computer cleaning products
  • whipped cream aerosols (whippets)
  • vegetable oil sprays

Nitrites are a special, less common type of inhalants that are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Organic nitrites are volatiles that include cyclohexyl, butyl, and amyl nitrites, commonly known as poppers. Amyl nitrite is still used in certain diagnostic medical procedures. When marketed for illegal use, organic nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles labeled as video head cleaner, room deodorizer, leather cleaner, or liquid aroma.

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Inhalant abuse is a serious addictive disease that requires support from medical professionals. Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a leading rehab and recovery center for women and adolescent girls suffering with inhalants abuse as well as other addictions, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and co-occurring disorders. Call us today or read more about our inhalants abuse treatment philosophy.

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