If you suspect your child or loved one is abusing inhalants, you are not alone. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2009 more than 2 million American children, ages 12 and older, had used or abused some type of inhalant. And this number continues to rise. Using inhalants may seem like a fun way to get a quick high, but the results, even after one use, can be devastating.
So what are inhalants? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines inhalants as “breathable chemical vapors that users intentionally inhale because of the chemicals’ mind-altering effects.” These vapors are found in ordinary household products like cleaners, solvents, and aerosol products. Most inhalants cause a quick high that resembles alcohol intoxication. Abusing these products can eventually lead to unconsciousness and in some cases, death.
Inhalants typically fall into one of these four categories:
Volatile solvents are liquids that become gases at room temperature and include paint thinners, paint strippers, gasoline, felt-tip markers, and glues.
Nitrites are referred to as “poppers” and “snappers” on the street. In the home, nitrites can be found in room deodorizers and capsules that release vapors when they are opened.
Aerosol sprays include spray paint, hairspray, cooking oil sprays, deodorant, and static- cling-removal sprays.
Gases used for medical reasons such as nitrous oxide, butane lighters, propane tanks, refrigerants, and whipped cream containers that use nitrous oxide as a propellant.
Inhalant use is popular among children and teens because of the easy access to these products and the type of high they produce. Volatile solvents, gases, and aerosol sprays produce a mood-altering high and nitrites are known to increase sexual stimulation.
Laws regarding inhalant abuse vary from state to state, and currently there is no federal legislation in place to control inhalant use. The products that contain inhalants are legal for purchase and use in the United States as long as they are used for their intended purpose. Due to the danger these products pose to children and the risk of abuse, many states now have laws against the misuse of inhalants and some restrict the sale of certain products to minors. The penalties for the misuse of these products or purchasing or providing the substances to minors in any way range from fines to jail time. In some states, a treatment plan is offered in place of jail time. Regardless of whether your state has laws and penalties specific to inhalant abuse, it is important to protect your children by keeping all inhalants in a secure location at all times. Communicating with your children about the dangers of inhalants and other drugs is the first step to prevention. Keeping all inhalants under lock and key will help ensure the safety of any child who enters your home.
Risks of Inhalant Experimentation
Inhalants are highly addictive and are often the first drug children experiment with because they are so easy to obtain. To children and teens, inhalants may seem like a safe way to get high because many of these products are used on a daily basis. But keeping a product in your home does not equal safety. Sudden death from inhalants, “Sudden Sniffing Death,” can happen with just one use. After sniffing, the heart begins to beat rapidly and irregularly and then simply stops. Cardiac arrest is the most common type of inhalant death. Inhalant death can also result from asphyxia, choking, and injury. Asphyxia happens when oxygen in the body is replaced by the inhaled substance and breathing stops. Choking deaths occur when the person inhaling chokes on his or her own vomit. The risk of accidental death from injury increases when a person uses inhalants because he is intoxicated and not able to make good decisions or use proper judgment. As with other drug abuse, there is also greater risk of suicide after inhalant use as the high wears off and depression sets in.
Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse
Inhalant abuse can be hard to detect, especially if your child or someone you love has only experimented a few times. The most important thing is to be aware of the symptoms so you can recognize if there is a problem. Unlike other drugs and alcohol, it does not take a party, a connection from the street, or even money to obtain inhalants. They are available in almost every home and at every grocery or drug store in the country. If you suspect your child is using inhalants, look for these tell-tale signs:
The physical symptoms of inhaling can mimic other common medical conditions. But if the physical symptoms occur in your loved one without fever and are accompanied by emotional symptoms, it is time to consider that inhalants may be involved.
Side Effects of Inhalant Abuse
Many people report using inhalants for the quick high they provide. This high does not last long, so the danger of addiction is increased with these substances because of the need to use over and over. A single use of an inhaled substance can produce a number of short-term side effects. Increased heart rate, hallucinations, loss of feeling, unconsciousness, vomiting, lack of coordination, and slurred speech can all happen within minutes of using an inhalant. Inhalants also cause dangerous changes in bodily functions, taking up to two weeks for the chemicals to leave the body after just one use.
Inhalants are highly habit forming, and those who are addicted to the substances run the risk of long-term health problems such as brain damage, depression, and loss of senses like hearing and the ability to smell. People who are addicted to inhalants, including teens and children, need medically supervised detox to rid their bodies of the drug’s toxins Those who experiment with these dangerous chemicals put themselves at risk of addiction, long-term health complications, and even death. Understanding the risks and recognizing there is a problem are the first steps in helping your loved one get the treatment he or she needs.
Inhalant Abuse in the News
Since inhalants found in everyday substances are not considered illegal, many celebrities use them for a quick high. Most recently, actress Demi Moore was reported to have used a product called Whip It! just before paramedics were called to her home. A friend told emergency medical personnel that Moore had used the small cans of nitrous oxide intended for baking and making whipped cream right before she lost consciousness and experienced seizures. Ammonia inhalants are popular among professional athletes as a quick pick-me-up before a game. The use of these performance enhancing inhalants can go virtually unnoticed as they are not detected by routine drug tests. NFL stars Brett Favre and Michael Strahan have used ammonia capsules for a quick energy boost during their careers, although Favre also struggled with prescription drug addiction as well. Both Brett Favre and Demi Moore found help for their drug addictions through rehab; Favre in 1996 and Moore in early 2012. Favre went on to be one of the most celebrated players in football history and holds the record for the most consecutive starts by any player in the NFL. Moore credits her family and friends for getting her the help she needed in time to save her life.
Inhalant Addiction Recovery
If you suspect your child or loved one is addicted to inhalants, it is important to know there is help available. With the right addiction treatment, your loved one can begin the journey to a drug-free life. Treatment for inhalant abuse usually begins with a period of medically supervised detox programs. Medically supervised detox gives the body time to get rid of the toxins of the drug in a safe way before beginning rehabilitation. During this period of treatment, trained medical staff will guide your loved one through detox and help him or her deal with any painful or uncomfortable withdrawal side effects. Inhalant withdrawal symptoms are fairly mild compared with other drug withdrawal.
Once the body has had a chance to recover from the immediate effects of the inhalants, the rehab process can begin.
Rehab usually begins at a time of diagnosis. Since inhalant abuse can be prevalent among children and teens, age appropriate evaluation and treatment is key. Since treatment for inhalant addiction is primarily done through learning to replace old behaviors with new ones, it is important to know if there is any underlying emotional illness contributing to the addiction. Questions about a family history or personal history of drug abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, or other problems will help the recovery team determine the right kind of treatment for your loved one. If there is any underlying problem causing the addiction, medication can be used to help treat the whole person while in recovery and after.
Once a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan prepared, your loved one will begin a series of individual, group, and family counseling sessions to help get to the core of the addiction. Counselors will help him or her understand the addiction, how it happened, and what needs to be done going forward to live a life free from inhalant abuse. Therapists will provide coping strategies, behavioral modification plans, and other tools the person in recovery can use to stay drug free. Most treatment programs last 30, 60, or 90 days depending on your insurance coverage and the severity of the addiction. In some cases, year-long programs are available. Most insurance policies cover some level of both inpatient and outpatient treatment. The counselor at the rehab center of your choice will help you understand your insurance coverage and what benefits are available to you or your loved one.
Following rehab, the most important thing a person in recovery can do is get involved in an ongoing support group. Support groups are made up of people working to stay clean from drug addiction. Inhalant abuse and addiction can be just as devastating as addiction to other drugs, and understanding the need for a support group can make the difference between relapse and recovery. Support groups provide a safe place to share experiences, accountability, and social interaction for those in recovery. Sharing feelings, struggles, and victories in a non-threatening environment can be the key to staying on a drug-free path. Support groups are available through drug treatment centers, community groups, and religious organizations. Therapists and counselors will help you find the appropriate support group when rehab has ended. In addition to joining a support group, your loved one’s therapy team may also recommend regular counseling visits after rehab. Regular counseling sessions provide additional accountability and support during the recovery process.
Help for Inhalant Abuse and Addiction
In 2012, the NIDA funded a study entitled Monitoring the Future. This study showed 8.1 percent of eighth-graders, 5.7 percent of 10th-graders, and 3.6 percent of 12th-graders had used inhalants at least once in the previous year. If you suspect your child or teen is using inhalants, it is time to get help. Your child’s doctor or school guidance office is a great place to begin. If you have an adult loved one who is using inhalants, look for help from his or her doctor, a local drug helpline, or drug rehab center. These resources will work with you and your loved one to find the right plan of treatment for inhalant abuse.
Understanding the dangers of inhalants, knowing the signs of abuse, and asking for help are all ways you can help your loved one deal with his or her inhalant addiction. If you suspect someone in your life is using inhalants, we are here to help you. Our helpline counselors are ready to answer your questions about inhalant abuse and treatment options. Call our toll-free number 24 hours a day.