Inhalant Addiction Treatment

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Inhalant addiction: the Enterhealth treatment approach

Inhalant addiction

Inhalants are various intoxicating substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled – either directly via spraying or indirectly using  paraphernalia, such as a rag or can containing the chemical.

Some inhalants are restricted drugs that have legitimate medical uses, while others include common household substances with intoxicating ingredients that can be abused for a temporary high. Many of these substances are extremely toxic and can lead to serious health problems or death.

Inhalant abuse is sometimes referred to as a forgotten drug epidemic. Millions of Americans abuse these substances at some point in their lives, but reporting of this abuse is often overshadowed by other drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription opioids.

Additionally, many people don’t think of these products as drugs because they’re not intended for getting high, even though many use them for that purpose.

 How do you treat inhalant addiction?

As with other addictions and substance use disorders, the best way to treat inhalant addiction is with a comprehensive treatment program that combines medical and psychiatric care with behavioral therapies, motivational intervention, family therapy, activity and engagement programs, as well as aftercare and support programs.

Inpatient rehab is the best option for those dealing with an inhalant addiction, as it offers the medical attention needed to monitor their physical health and manage their withdrawal symptoms. In addition, symptoms of long-term inhalant abuse, combined with withdrawal symptoms, can lead to psychosis and other mental issues that can be addressed by onsite medical and psychological professionals.

That’s why it’s important to choose an addiction treatment program like the one at Enterhealth that’s equipped to treat these mental health conditions as well as any co-occurring medical issues that may be present in individuals seeking help for substance abuse.

How do inhalants affect the brain?

As a result of their high lipid solubility, inhalants are able to enter the bloodstream through the lungs and then easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Once there, most inhalants affect the brain in similar ways to tranquilizers or sedatives, as well as alcohol, targeting the central nervous system and slowing down brain activity.

Due to the similar way they work, the short-term effects of inhalants are similar to those of alcohol or sedatives and include:

  • Slurred or distorted speech
  • Lack of coordination/ability to control movement
  • Euphoria
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed

In larger doses, users may also experience distorted perceptions of time and space, hallucinations, delusions, and emotional disturbances.

 Can a person become addicted to inhalants?

While addiction to inhalant drugs is less common than with other substances of abuse, it is possible for a person to develop an addiction. That’s because like most addictive substances, over time these chemicals change the way your brain works.

Due to these changes, inhalant users will eventually start experiencing symptoms of physical and mental dependence, including uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they’re not using them anymore.

Inhalant withdrawal symptoms

Again, because inhalants affect the brain in ways similar to alcohol or sedatives, the symptoms of withdrawal are also very similar. Due to chronic use, the brain and central nervous system become accustomed to constantly being depressed.

This often leads to an overproduction of certain neurotransmitters and an oversensitivity of certain pathways that are tied to the excitatory system. As a result, discontinuing use often leads to uncomfortable symptoms of an over-excited nervous system.

These symptoms can include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Panic, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Physical and emotional agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Grand mal seizures

 Side effects of inhalants

It should go without saying that the biggest danger of inhaling these kinds of toxic chemicals, solvents, and gases is death, even for the first time. People who use inhalants are a risk for heart failure or suffocation because inhalants are easily absorbed by the lungs (faster than oxygen) and can end up displacing oxygen.

As the initial short-term effects begin to wear off, many inhalant users experience side effects such as:

  • Headaches
  • Lingering drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of coordination and slurred speech
  • Wheezing
  • Emotional changes, such as aggression, depression, or irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stupor

The long-term effects of inhalant abuse can be severe, and may include:

  • Brain damage
  • Heart problems (including fluid buildup, heart rhythm changes, or arrythmia)
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Bone marrow deterioration
  • Oxygen deficiency and inability of tissues to absorb and use oxygen
  • Nerve damage, which can cause prolonged loss of coordination and limb spasms

Those who begin abusing inhalant drugs at a young age are much more likely to drop out of school, and many children and teenagers who abuse inhalants are also at a higher risk of becoming addicted to other drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and opioids later in life.

How are inhalants taken?

Using inhalants involves breathing in fumes or gas through the nose or mouth, which is referred to as sniffing, snorting, bagging, or huffing – the different names typically correspond to different methods, substances, and equipment being used to inhale the fumes.

Inhalant abuse is most commonly referred to as huffing, and the inhalant drugs are breathed into the lungs either by spraying them directly into the nose or by soaking a piece of cloth which is then held up to the face.

Other methods include:

  • Sniffing or snorting, in which fumes are inhaled directly from the container
  • Bagging, in which the liquid is sprayed or poured into a bag, then the fumes are inhaled
  • Spraying, typically for aerosols, involves spraying the substance directly into the nose or mouth
  • Inhaling, where a substance (usually a gas) is used to fill a balloon, then inhaled out of the balloon

The euphoric “high” from inhalants typically only lasts 15 to 30 minutes but can even be as short as 2 to 3 minutes. This high is usually very brief, leading users try and make it last by inhale the substance again and again over several hours.

Common inhalants include:

Volatile solvents – Paint thinners or removers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, lighter fluid, correction fluids (White-Out), felt-tip marker fluid, glue/rubber cement.

Aerosols – Spray paint, hair or deodorant sprays, aerosol computer cleaning products (air duster), cooking oil sprays.

Gases – Nitrous oxide – this can be medical grade, but more often it’s accessed via whip cream gas chargers, or “whip-its/whippets”, butane/propane lighters, ether, chloroform, refrigerant canisters (i.e., Freon).

Nitrites – Amyl nitrite (isoamyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite), isopropyl nitrite, butyl/isobutyl nitrite, cyclohexyl nitrite. Nitrites are sometimes used to treat certain heart conditions, but only with a prescription. Most recreation users buy them from stores where they’re marketed as things like video head cleaner, room odorizer, leather cleaner, or liquid aroma.

Can you overdose on inhalants?

Yes, it’s very possible to overdose on inhalants, which can lead to:

  • Sudden sniffing death, a condition where the heart beats quickly and irregularly, and then suddenly stops (cardiac arrest).
  • Asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen in the lungs and brain.
  • Suffocation from lack of oxygen when inhaling fumes from a plastic bag.
  • Convulsions or seizures due to abnormal electrical discharges in the brain.
  • Coma as a result of the brain shutting down all but the most vital functions.
  • Choking on vomit after becoming intoxicated.
  • Injuries and accidents, including driving while intoxicated, falls, etc.

Who Abuses Inhalants?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2018, about 9% of the U.S. population has used, abused, or become addicted to inhalants at some point in their lives – that’s about 29 million people.

Because many of these substances are legal household items, the most at-risk group for inhalant abuse and addiction is adolescents under the age of 18, with younger kids and teens actually more likely to abuse them than older teens and young adults.

In fact, findings from NIDA’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey in 2020 show that approximately 13% of 8th-graders, 7% of 10th-graders, and 4% of 12th-graders have used inhalants.

Those of lower socioeconomic levels may be more likely than their more advantaged peers, according to studies performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but rates among the different groups are not statistically significant.

How do you know if someone is abusing inhalants?

Signs of inhalant abuse can include:

  • Odors of chemicals on the breath or clothing
  • Stains from on hands, fingers, nose and mouth, or clothes
  • Hiding paraphernalia like used rags, bags, or empty cans
  • Significant changes in appetite, weight loss
  • Downturn in school/work performance
  • Poor hygiene and grooming
  • Incoherent or slurred speech
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Rash, ulcers or other irritation around the nose and mouth

Other symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Hostility
  • Paranoia

Treatment for inhalant addiction at Enterhealth

Enterhealth offers a comprehensive treatment program that’s specifically tailored to the unique needs of each patient and designed to address all facets of addiction – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

At our inpatient rehabilitation facility, Enterhealth Ranch, we offer patients a safe and comfortable environment to detox using anti-addiction medications to help treat withdrawal symptoms and cravings while providing around-the-clock medical supervision and care.

Our science-based treatment program includes advanced neurological and psychological treatments with tried-and-true behavioral therapies – including one-on-one and family sessions.

We offer a full continuum of care, from initial detox to aftercare with the Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence, to our Alumni Association, which allows patients to continue and thrive in recovery by building relationships through shared experiences. It’s this comprehensive, end-to-end care that offers our patients the best chances at a successful, long-lasting recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.