Dependence on inhalants
Although national surveys indicate that 21.7 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, dependence and abuse of inhalants is less common than with other drugs, and most cases occur in more isolated areas. However, inhaled products have addictive qualities. The danger of addiction to inhalants should not be overlooked simply because it is less common than others.
People who regularly use inhalants over a long period of time can develop physical and psychological dependence on the substance.
The use of inhalants is most common among adolescents. Studies suggest that between 13.1% and 16.1% of eighth graders use inhalants, which is roughly the same percentage as marijuana. People who are not able to control their inhalant consumption while knowing the negative consequences and health effects are generally considered to be addicted. Even those who have an overwhelming desire to stop abusing inhalants may be unable to do so. The immediate availability of inhaled substances at home and in stores can make it difficult for a severely addictive person to quit smoking on their own.
Understanding the substances to inhale
Inhalants are volatile, often flammable, substances that vaporize at room temperature. Inhaled substances produce short-lasting psychotropic effects which may be similar to the effects of alcohol. Inhalants include a wide variety of chemicals and anesthetics classified according to their mode of administration: inhalation. These substances are often referred to as Whippets, Laughing Gas, Huff, or Hippie Crack.
Substances considered to be inhaled substances
Dependence and abuse of inhalants includes the misuse of household solvents, gases and anesthetics. Household inhalants can be anything from cleaning products to gasoline.
Anesthetics are gases used to medically reduce sensitivity to pain. Nitrous oxide and chloroform are well known anesthetics. Nitrous oxide is better known as “laughing gas” and is commonly used by dentists. This gas is also used in whipped cream cans, where most abusers get it.
Amyl nitrite is also a popular inhalant that has been used to increase blood flow in people with heart disease. Nitrites are often placed in their own class of inhalants because they work primarily to relax muscles, which is different from the effects of other inhalants.
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Classes of inhalants
- Paint thinners
- Dry cleaning fluids
- Lighter fluid
- Corrective fluids
- Liquid felt marker
- Electronic contact cleaners
- Nail polish
- Spray paint
- Hair spray
- Deodorant spray
- Aerosolized Computer Cleaning Products
- Vegetable oil vaporizers
- butane lighters
- Propane tanks
- Whipped Cream Dispensers (commonly known as Whippets)
- Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)
- Video head cleaner
- Ambient odor
- Leather cleaner
- Liquid flavor
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Inhaled effects and abuse
Inhalants can be abused using several different methods, the most common being “blowing”. Blowing involves soaking a cloth with a liquid inhalant, holding the cloth up to your mouth and / or nose, and then inhaling the vapors. Some people inhale the substance directly from its container through their mouth or nose.
People can also inhale the substance from a plastic or paper bag or inhale gas from balloons. People addicted to inhalants may heat these substances before inhaling them to intensify their effects.
Inhalation poisoning has been compared to alcohol poisoning because of their similar effects, such as impaired judgment or motor function. Unlike alcohol, inhalants can cause a temporary hallucinatory state. In addition, the effects of inhalants only last a few minutes. The effects of inhaled products include:
- Loss of self-control
- Limited reflexes
- Loss of coordination
- Scrambled or distorted speech
Adolescents are the largest group of people who abuse inhalants. The average age of first-time users in 2012 was around 17 years old.
Any use of inhalants is considered abuse in part because of the serious damage these substances can inflict on the body. Inhalants act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and higher doses or deep breathing of these solvents can lead to a fatal overdose. This is usually preceded by loss of contact with reality and nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. A fatal overdose is usually the result of heart failure, asphyxiation, or the drug causing the user’s breathing to stop.
Additional long-term effects of using inhalants include:
- Damage to the liver and kidneys
- Hearing loss
- Damage to the bone marrow
- Loss of coordination and limb spasms
- Nerve damage
- Delayed behavioral development
- Brain damage
Drug addiction and inhalant abuse statistics
There were over 10,000 emergency room visits for addiction and inhalant abuse in 2011.
percentage of adolescents
Over 60% of new users are teenagers, and abuse is more common among younger teenagers.
case of dependence
Addiction to inhalants is rare – there were approximately 140,000 addictions in 2011. By comparison, there were over 100 times as many addictions to alcohol in the same year.
Treating addiction to inhalants
Addiction to inhalants is a very serious problem that can cause permanent brain damage in a short period of time. Most people who are addicted to inhalants need professional treatment. There are inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people with inhalant dependence.
Inhalants are among the substances the abuse of which is the most harmful to a person’s health. If you or someone you know is addicted to inhalants, treatment is available.