Inhalants are mood altering compounds ingested by breathing via nose or mouth. These inhalants are chemical vapors and do not include drugs smoked such as heroin or marijuana. Many inhalants abused are common household products that one would not expect could be a fatal drug as inhaling is not a part of their intended manufacture or use. Commonly abused inhalants include poppers, spray paint, glue, deodorant, hair spray and cleaning products. Inhalants can be categorized into 5 classifications:
1. Aliphatic hydrocarbons such as petrol and gasoline
2. Aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene and xylene
3. Ketones such as acetone
4. Haloalkanes include many aerosols and propellants
5. Nitrites such as poppers and nitrous oxide
Inhalant abuse, or huffing, normally starts at a young age as a cheaper and more readily available substitute for alcohol or drugs. There is no typical stereotype background around inhalant abuse though factors contributing toward it may include those in poor socioeconomic backgrounds or those with a history of trauma or mental and/or physical abuse. The most prominent age groups of inhalant abusers are those in middle and high school.
When inhaled the chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream then sent to the brain and other organs. Inhalants tend to be abused for the feelings of stimulation, lack of inhibitions and sometimes hallucinations.
Most teenagers are unaware of the health risks that come with inhalants; Inhalants slow down the body’s functions such as breathing and can lead to unconsciousness and suffocation. In high doses, especially with aerosols, inhalants can cause heart failure and death. Other more common risks of abuse of inhalants include:
- Brain damage
- Limb spasms
- Hearing loss
- Liver and kidney damage
Those using inhalants experience the euphoria for only a few minutes. Some users of inhalants report having mild withdrawal symptoms and cravings for repeated use.
As inhalants are so readily available and prominent in one’s daily life it is harder to treat than other drugs; many treatment centers will refuse to admit a patient with solely inhalant drug abuse.
Assessment and intake considerations normally include:
- Determining duration, quantity and context of the inhalant abuse history
- Medical screening
- Neurological testing
- Assessing behavioral and emotional patterns
- Cognitive history assessment
- Drug abuse history aside from inhalants
- Means of access to inhalants assessment as part of after-care plan
- Family and social history
The first requirement for treatment is a complete medical exam to determine any damage done to the central nervous system, kidney or liver damages, lead poising and other adverse health risks from inhalants. Alongside this neurological and psychiatric testing is common as inhalants can cause severe brain damage.
Detoxification normally takes a matter of days, for long-term inhalant abusers it can take up to a few weeks as chemicals from inhalants will stay in fatty tissues in the body longer.Those who use inhalants, as said, tend to have other issues such as a chaotic family background or personality disorders which started the abuse of inhalants. Treatment therefore must include therapy to deal with the underlying issues.
Counseling is critical to break the pattern of abuse. The inhalant abuser must learn coping and better communication skills.Length of treatment varies and for long time inhalant abusers can take months as after-care is essential to help integrate the user back into society without relapsing to readily available inhalant drugs.