Inhalant Abuse Information

Inhalant abuse is one kind of substance exploitation that many people don't consider when they think of drug use.

In fact, it might even come off as not actually being a problem at all for some people. This type of thinking, however, is a mistake.

Over 22.5 million people aged 12 and older have used inhalants in order to get high in the United States. That's almost 10% of the country's entire population.

What's more, this type of substance abuse disproportionately affects underage children with 58% of users reporting their first inhalant abuse occurring before the end of ninth grade.

And with the long list of potentially permanent long-term health impacts of abusing inhalants, this is one problem that certainly needs a lot more attention.

Inhalent Addiction

Inhalant Abuse Defined

While it's true that many other illicit substances like meth and crack can be inhaled in order to feel their effects, the "inhalant" category is used to refer to products that are only ever inhaled. Other drugs can be injected, snorted, and smoked as well.

What's more, inhalants are also typically products that are not produced solely for the purpose of recreational use and can oftentimes be found around the house. For instance, certain types of aerosol sprays, solvents, gases, and nitrites can all be used as inhalants. Some common examples of household inhalants are:

  • Glues
  • Gasoline
  • Shoe polish
  • Lighter fluid
  • Deodorizers
  • Lacquers

When the fumes of these substances are inhaled into the lungs, users will experience a brief (usually only several minutes) high that's characterized by euphoria, dizziness, lack of coordination, and the development of delusions. Some describe it as being similar to the effects of alcohol. Since the high is so short-lived, some inhalant abusers will continue to supplement and prolong the high by using again every few minutes, sometimes for hours at a time.

One of the biggest dangers when it comes to inhalants is the fact that they are so readily available and easily obtained. Similar to cold medicine (also abused more than most people think), while many homes may already contain several if not many products that can be inhaled for a psychoactive effect, users can simply find them at the store as well.

What's more, many of these products are loosely regulated or, as is more likely the case, not regulated at all. Some states, however, bar the sale of certain substances like industrial glues and lacquers directly to minors. But as much as these regulations may help, it's near impossible to regulate all the products that are used as inhalants solely because there are far too many.

What's So Bad About Abusing Inhalants?

Inhalant abuse may seem like one of the less harmful substance use disorders (due to the short high and the relatively tame physical effects) but the truth is inhalants can be incredibly damaging to the body.

Some of the short-term side effects of abusing inhalants include:

  • Lethargy
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Blurred vision
  • Tremor
  • Chemical burns
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Coma

And while these effects alone are reason enough to avoid abusing inhalants, there are also a myriad of persistent long-term consequences that an individual may never recover from such as:

  • Bone marrow damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Permanent nerve damage leading to coordination loss and spasms
  • Brain damage
  • Developmental delay resulting in cognitive impairment

Inhalants are so destructive to the brain that research has shown that even a single incident of inhalant intoxication has been shown to have long-lasting effects on memory and processing speed. What's more, studies have revealed that persistent inhalant intoxication has been linked with Parkinsonism, permanent loss of brain cells, and the occurrence of cranial lesions of white matter.

Beyond the immediately startling effects of inhalants is the fact that children who have not fully developed is the primary demographic that's abusing inhalants. In fact, "inhalants" is the only class of substancethat's used more by younger teens than older teens.

The ease of access along with the cheap costs are some of the main reasons why inhalant abuse is so addictive among this population.

Why does this fact matter? Because the minds and bodies of these children are still in the earliest and most crucial developmental stages. As such, any toxic substance abused at this age will have even more of a detrimental effect than if it were used several years later.

What's more, recurrent inhalant abuse has been shown to correspond with higher rates of psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and developing other substance use disorders when compared to non-inhalant abusers.

Not only is the younger population being disproportionately stunted by what's been called "the forgotten epidemic" that is inhalant abuse, they're also being primed at a young age to develop additional psychological and substance use disorders as well.

Street Names for Inhalants and How They're Used

The general practice of using inhalants can be referred to in a number of ways such as:

  • Huffing
  • Glading
  • Bagging
  • Ballooning
  • Sniffing
  • Snorting

Each of these terms correlates with a certain method of abusing inhalants. Huffing, for example, signifies when an individual inhales the fumes of a substance from a rag that's been soaked. The abuser either holds it up to their face or puts it entirely into their mouth.

Glading, as the name might suggest, involves inhaling aerosols, usually air fresheners.

Bagging connotes spraying the substance into a bag and then breathing in the fumes and ballooning is similar except used with a balloon rather than a bag.

And finally, sniffing involves inhaling the substance by the nose and snorting is through the mouth.

The inhalants themselves also have a variety of different street names like:

  • Bolt
  • Bullet
  • Whiteout
  • Quicksilver
  • Poppers
  • Aimies
  • Moon gas
  • Spray
  • Whippets

Symptoms of Inhalant Withdrawal

Although inhalant addiction is not as common as other substance use disorders, it is still possible both overdose from and become addicted to inhalants. Withdrawal, then, can occur given an extended period of use. Some of the symptoms of inhalant withdrawal are:

  • Insomnia
  • Rapid changes in mood
  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sweating

While these symptoms are not typically dangerous, an individual should still seek the help of a qualified professional in order to fully recover from their addiction.

Signs of Inhalant Abuse and How to Get Someone the Help They Need

In addition to the immediate signs of inhalant abuse (slurred speech, disorientation, a drunken appearance, etc.) there are also a number of behavioral cues to watch out for including:

  • A sudden and noticeable change in physical appearance. Could be characterized by no longer being concerned with how they look, a drop in personal hygiene, wearing clothes that may have seemed inappropriately casual beforehand.
  • Self-imposed isolation such as spending an unusual amount of time in their rooms or separated from family and friends.
  • Newly evasive or secretive behavior.
  • A lack of enthusiasm for interests that used to bring them joy.
  • New friends that they may be unwilling to talk about.
  • Dramatic shifts in mood and unusual defensiveness.
  • Poor performance either at work or at school.
  • Consistently failing to meet obligations that they used to easily perform.

In addition to these signs of abusing inhalants, there are also physical signs you can look out for that may indicate someone you're close to has an inhalant abuse problem. For instance, keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Aerosol cans that are still full but no longer have the aerosol to spray out.
  • Clothes, bags, or rags covered in paint, glue, or other substances used for inhaling.
  • A noticeably noxious smell emanating from the individual.

If you suspect someone you love might have an inhalant abuse problem, there are a few ways you can help with their recovery, the most important of which is ensuring they get the help they need.

Inhalant Abuse: The Forgotten Epidemic

Inhalants are not only incredibly harmful to your health, they're also especially prevalent during a time when the body is at its most developmentally vulnerable.

Educating yourself on what inhalant abuse is as well as some of its signs is one of the best ways to identify if you or someone you care about needs to seek professional help in order to live a drug-free life.