Inhalant Addiction Treatment
Inhalant addiction is a major problem in need of treatment, despite the lack of attention it gets compared to drugs and alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and over abuse inhalants in their lifetime.
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What Are Inhalants?
Inhalants are aerosol and adhesive products made for industrial and home-improvement projects. Inhalants are not referred to as drugs because that’s not the intended purpose of such products, which are sold over-the-counter in hardware and supply stores. However, a lot of people inhale these substances for the intoxicating effects of the chemicals.
Commonly abused inhalants include the following products:
- Solvents – Liquid products with strong, intoxicating smells, such as gasoline and paint thinner, are often abused for their drug-like effects on the inhaler. Other solvents with toxic fumes include superglue, degreaser, nail polish remover and chemical cleaning solutions.
- Gases – Aerosol products with strong, noxious fumes, such as spray paint, hair spray and fabric protection spray.
- Nitrites – Prescription inhalants made for pain relief, such as amyl nitrite. Illegal street variations of amyl nitrate also exist. Certain room deodorizers contain trace amounts of amyl nitrate.
People abuse these products in part because they’re easy to come by, unlike illicit drugs. There are no laws against the possession of inhalants.
Why do People Abuse Inhalants?
People abuse inhalants because the chemical fumes have an intoxicating effect similar to drugs and alcohol. Unlike opioids and hallucinogens, which can only be obtained through street dealers (and lead to stiff legal penalties if caught), inhalants can be purchased at hardware stores. For young adolescent inhalant users, this is one of the most appealing prospects.
Breathed inhalants can have the following effects on users:
- Alcohol-like effects – Slurred speech, poor coordination, dizziness and other booze-like symptoms.
- Hallucinogenic effects – Light-headedness, visual illusions and other effects that may resemble an acid trip.
While the effects of inhalants merely last a few short minutes, the toxins can impact the brain long-term. If done heavily, inhalants can cause headaches and fatigue. Inhaling can cause unconsciousness or death if done vigorously in a single setting.
How Are Inhalants Abused?
Inhalant misuse is done in multiple ways. With paint thinner, the user simply unscrews the cap and holds the nozzle to his nose. With sniffing glue, the user sticks the nozzle in his nose. In 1976, this act was glorified in the song “Now I Wanna Sniff Glue” by The Ramones. The common terms for inhaling are:
- Sniffing – The act of inhaling fumes from a tube (Crazy Glue), container or aerosol spray can.
- Snorting – Similar to sniffing but with direct contact between the nose and container.
- Bagging – The act of inhaling fumes from a balloon or plastic bag.
- Huffing – A method where the user saturates a cloth with a noxious substance and holds it to his nose.
Methods like sniffing and snorting are the typical methods of young adolescent inhalant use.
Effects of Inhalant Substance Abuse
Inhalant abuse can cause chronic damage to the brain, bloodstream and bone marrow. The most common effects of ongoing inhalant abuse include:
- Mood disorders – Inhalant addiction causes depression and irritability.
- Weight loss – As with stimulants and opioids, inhalant abuse can render users emaciated with little muscle mass.
- Loss of physical coordination – Inhalants ravage the bones and muscles, leaving users frail and uncoordinated.
- Mental problems – The effects of fumes on the brain can lead to permanent cognitive impairment. Long-term inhalant users typically show disorientation and a lack of concentration.
Inhalant abuse is harder to detect or diagnose than alcohol and substance abuse because the elements of fumes don’t show in blood or urine tests.
Signs of Inhalant Abuse
Some people go about abusing inhalants without admitting to the problem. Inhalant use also evades drug tests. However, when someone abuses inhalants, he/she will often show the following signs:
- Odor – Inhalant smells from the person’s clothes, hair or breath.
- Physical evidence – Discarded tubes, containers, spray cans, cloths, plastic bags, etc.
- Alcoholic-like traits – Drunken behavior (slurred speech, irritability), bloodshot eyes.
- Personality changes – Radical mood shift; loss of interest in once passionate subjects and hobbies.
Inhalant users sometimes have sores around their mouths. Fume-induced nausea can inhibit the user’s appetite and lead to drastic weight loss.
Detox From Inhalants
The first step toward conquering inhalant addiction is detox. Inhalant detox is not like drug and alcohol detox, which takes between three and seven days (in most cases) as chemicals clear the body. Inhalant detox takes longer because inhalants deposit on the fatty tissues of the muscles and internal organs. Those deposits can take weeks to clear the system.
Withdrawal symptoms are rare during inhalant detox but may include
- Mood problems – As with alcohol withdrawal, patients may feel anxiety, depression and irritability.
- Sleep problems – These can range from extreme fatigue to restlessness and insomnia.
- Physical irritation – Shakes, hand tremors, nausea and vomiting may occur in some cases.
- Hallucinations – Recovering detox patients may have apparitions during withdrawal.
When withdrawal symptoms do occur, it’s usually during the second and third days of detox. There are no medications for inhalant withdrawal symptoms but doctors may prescribe sleeping aids to help patients struggling with insomnia.
Treatment Programs for Inhalant Addiction
People can beat inhalant addiction if they go through detox and get treatment for the problem. American addiction centers offer treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Some rehab centers also have programs specially designed for people who struggle with inhalant addiction.
- Inpatient rehabilitation – Consists of 30-90 days at a residential rehab facility, where the patient stays day and night for a full recovery from inhalant and substance abuse. Inpatient programs include wellness activities, private counseling, group therapy, health coaching and private time.
- Outpatient programs – Similar to residential treatment (counseling, group meetings, experiential therapy) with meetings in the morning, day or evening. Outpatient treatment is good for people with mild issues. Outpatient programs are flexible, allowing patients to continue with work, school and social activities while seeking treatment.
- Aftercare – Some treatment centers offer further care to people who complete the inpatient or outpatient programs. For patients who need to start over in life, some rehab centers can link patients with job-placement agencies and openings at sober-living houses.
During rehab, counselors help patients work through co-occurring mental health issues, which often feed into addictive behavior.
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Get Treatment for Inhalant and Drug Abuse
Inhalant abusers often deny they have a problem. If someone you know has this problem, get help immediately. Don’t let your friend or loved one succumb to an inhalant overdose. Contact the addiction treatment centers in your area and ask about their programs for inhalant addiction. Your call could save that person’s life.