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Inhalant Abuse Awareness (Part 1)

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In addiction treatment, inhalant abuse and addiction is largely overlooked in lieu of the more prevalent drugs such as alcohol, opiates, meth, etc. While inhalant abuse may not be as common as some other substances, the effects and devastation brought on by inhalant abuse can be equal, if not more severe than other drugs. In Orlando the death of a prominent attorney  due to inhalant abuse has compelled me to write about the dark world of inhalant abuse. With inhalant abuse, as with all substance abuses, awareness is the greatest tool in preventing abuse and getting people help. In this post, I will explain exactly what is inhalant abuse as well as the signs and symptoms of someone abusing inhalants.

What is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse, in street slang, is usually called ‘huffing’ or ‘sniffing’. National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) defines inhalant abuse as “the intentional misuse, via inhalation, of common household, school and workplace products and chemicals to “get high.” The most commonly abused inhalants are all legal household products; such as computer duster, paint thinners, aerosol cleaners, butane liquid, and gasoline. Other inhalants can be purchased at smoke shops or head shops and include whipped cream aerosols, ‘whippets’, and nitrites, or the slang term ‘poppers’. Different forms of inhalants contain various chemicals and solvents that produce the high people experience when abusing them. The action brought about by these chemicals are all very similar, they deprive the brain of oxygen and blood flow. When the brain experiences a lack of blood or oxygen, similar to the feeling of being light headed, the person experiences a feeling of dissociation that can result in dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death.  Aerosols and dusters also have the danger of freezing the users lungs, instantly causing death. The pressurized air could drop below freezing temperatures and damage or actually freeze the lungs. Almost a 1/3rdof deaths from inhalants happen during the users first experience, but could happen to even seasoned inhalant abusers. When the brain undergoes a sudden lack of oxygen, the person experiences a sense of euphoria. What the inhalant abuser does not realize is the euphoria is a result of a near death experience, the brain being deprived of oxygen is releasing neurotransmitters in response. This high is fast-acting and addictive. The cost and accessibility of inhalants make it an attractive drug for young adults and even children.  The NIPC reported over 300 inhalant related deaths alone in 2014.

Signs & Symptoms of Abuse

The signs of someone who is abusing inhalants is almost as wide-ranging as the types of inhalants available. Here is a simple list of common signs…

  • Stains or paint on the body or clothing
  • Presence of chemical-soaked rags, bags, socks, or balloons
  • Anxiety, excitability, and irritability
  • Red eyes, runny nose, spots, and sores around the mouth or nose
  • A chemical odor on the breath
  • Nausea, loss of appetite, or drooling
  • Hidden or missing abusable inhalants (aerosol sprays, paint, solvents, propane, dusters, etc.)

Someone abusing inhalants will appear drunk, dazed, dizzy, or drowsy. While the high from inhalants is generally short-acting, the physical and mental effects can last longer. If you suspect a family member of friend of misusing inhalants, don’t hesitant to confront them or seek help. While inhalants are not as prevalent as some of the other drugs, they can be just as addictive and more dangerous. Catch part 2 of the inhalant abuse series next week, as I cover inhalant abuse prevention and treatment.

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