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Effects of Inhalants Abuse

Inhalants are chemicals people breathe in to get “high”. Although not very common, it is possible to get addicted to inhalants and their effects. The effects of inhalant use can cause many short- and long-term effects on the brain and body.

What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are household products which contain chemicals that people inhale to get “high.” People abuse inhalants for their psychoactive effects. There is a different name for using inhalants depending on the product. The most common inhalant use terms are “sniffing,” “snorting,” “bagging,” or “huffing.”

Often, people who abuse inhalants try to make their effects last longer by abusing them multiple times over the span of several hours. The effects of inhalants can be addictive and may cause permanent brain damage. Inhalants are typically divided into four categories:

  • Solvents: Liquids that become a gas at room temperature, such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, some office or art supplies like glue, and gasoline.
  • Aerosols: Substances under pressure that are released as a fine spray, such as spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric sprays.
  • Gases: Common household and commercial products, including some used in the medical field for pain relief. Some of these gases are found in butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide or “laughing gas.”
  • Nitrites: Chemical compounds such as amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl. Amyl nitrite was once used by doctors to alleviate chest pains. Today it is sometimes used to diagnose heart problems. Nitrites are now banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission but they can still be found, sold in bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,”, “room odorizer,” or “liquid aroma.”

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The Effects of Inhalants Abuse on the Brain

When inhaled, chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, sending them all the way up to the brain. Almost all inhalants produce effects of feeling “high” by slowing down brain activity. Nitrites, on the other hand, often get misused in order to improve sexual performance by expanding and relaxing blood vessels.

Inhalants usually contain more than one chemical, and some leave the body quickly while others stay for a longer time. Chemicals that linger through the body get absorbed by fatty tissues in the brain and can cause serious long-term problems such as:

  • Damage to nerve fibers: After heavy or long-term use of inhalants, the protective sheath around some nerve fibers in the brain start to break down. This affects the ability of nerve cells to send signals, causing muscle spasms and tremors. This can also cause permanent trouble with actions such as walking, bending, and talking. The effects have been described as similar to the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
  • Damage to brain cells: Inhalants prevent brain cells from getting enough oxygen, causing a great amount of harm. The effects will depend on the area of the brain that receives the damage. If the cerebral cortex is damaged, it may affect a person’s ability to solve complex problems and plan ahead. The hippocampus is responsible for memory, so someone who abuses inhalants may have a hard time remembering, learning new things, or carrying on simple conversations. Damage to the cerebellum can cause someone to move slowly or lose balance.

Short-term Effects of Inhalants Abuse

The use of Inhalants can cause many short-term effects, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Upset stomach
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Euphoria
  • Heart failure

Long-term Effects of Inhalants Abuse

The long-term effects of using Inhalants will differ on the type of inhalant used. Some common inhalants and their long-term effects include:

Amyl nitrite, buytl nitrite (poppers)

  • Sudden sniffing death
  • Weakened immune system
  • Damage to red blood cells

Benzene (gasoline)

  • Damage to bone marrow
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of leukemia
  • Damage to reproductive system

Butane, propane (lighter fluid, hair spray, spray paint)

  • Sudden sniffing death
  • Permanent brain damage

Freon-difluoroethane substitutes (refrigerant and aerosol propellant)

  • Sudden sniffing death
  • Breathing problems
  • Liver damage

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Methylenelchloride (paint thinners and removers, degreasers)

  • Reduced ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the brain and body
  • Changes to heart muscles and heartbeat

Nitrous Oxide, hexane (“laughing gas”)

  • Altered perception and motor coordination
  • Loss of sensation
  • Spasms
  • Blackouts caused by blood pressure changes
  • Heart failure
  • Death from lack of oxygen to the brain

Toluene (gasoline, paint thinners and removers, correction fluid)

  • Loss of brain tissue
  • Impaired thinking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Limb spasms
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Liver and kidney damage

Trichloroethylene (spot removers, degreasers)

  • Liver disease
  • Reproductive problems
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Sudden sniffing death

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Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms

Although not very common, it is possible to get addicted to the effects of inhalants. Using a large number of inhalants for a long time can cause strong urges to continue using them. Repeated use and suddenly stopping can cause mild withdrawals such as:

  • Upset Stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Mood changes

Inhalants addiction is hard to hide since the signs can be easy to spot with effects like slurred speech, drunk or disoriented actions, chemical odors on clothing, confusion, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.

Effects of An Inhalants Overdose

It is possible to overdose and die from inhalants, even after just one use, as a result of:

  • Sudden sniffing death – heart beats rapidly and irregularly, and then suddenly stops (cardiac arrest)
  • Asphyxiation – toxic fumes replace oxygen in the lungs, causing a person to stop breathing
  • Suffocation – air is blocked from entering the lungs when inhaling fumes
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma
  • Choking – inhaling vomit after inhalant use
  • Injuries

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Find Treatment for Inhalants Addiction

Inhalants use can be dangerous and even life-threatening. People seeking treatment for inhalant addiction have found behavioral therapy to be helpful on the road to recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please call a treatment provider today to learn more about rehab.

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