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How to Help an Inhalant Addict

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What is Inhalants Abuse?

Inhalant abuse can be defined as the intentional inhalation of vapors through sniffing or huffing from chemical products to become intoxicated, or achieve a high. These chemical products are commonly found in everyday household products. Often, the dangers of inhaling these products are ignored or minimized due to the acceptance of their common, everyday use.

Some examples of inhalants potentially misused for their “high” are:

  • Paint thinner.
  • Nail polish remover.
  • Hair spray.
  • Glue.
  • Felt tip marker fluid.
  • Butane lighters.
  • Nitrous oxide.
  • Gasoline.
  • Nitrites.

Inhalant abuse, in the past, had not been studied as thoroughly as illicit drugs, alcohol, or nicotine abuse. Due to recent increase in sniffing or huffing, there is now amplified research on the epidemiology of inhalant misuse, its treatment, and prevention measures to address the issue. A 2007 study by the Department of Education in Virginia revealed that preventative measures and awareness should be taught as early as kindergarten due to the accessibility and ease of purchase of these often common household products. If you or someone you know is using inhalants, don’t wait to get help. The health consequences can be deadly if allowed to continue. Call to discover how treatment programs can help, and to find a program that suits your needs.

Approaching an Inhalant-Addicted Loved One

If your loved one is facing an addiction to inhalants, they are not alone. In 2013, nearly 500,000 people aged 12 or older were current inhalant users. Among youth, inhalant abuse is the fourth most commonly abused drug after marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco.

If you suspect that your loved one is addicted to inhaling household substances it is important to get help at a treatment center as soon as possible. Inhaling these chemicals can cause your loved one to experience a state of intoxication that is similar to drunkenness. Additionally, the lack of oxygen in the brain may lead to sudden sniffing death syndrome, hallucinations, behavior changes, irregular heartbeat, trauma, and injury.

Regular use of inhalants can cause serious health problems including:

  • Central nervous system damage.
  • Liver failure.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Dementia.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Impaired cognitive functioning.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Early intervention is key, and if you suspect a loved one is using inhalants, taking immediate action is essential. You can try staging an intervention or employing the help of Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), which helps those who love an addict talk to them effectively about getting into treatment.

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Inhalants Addiction Treatment

The first step in inhalant treatment is detoxification (detox). During the detox period, the body will flush out any chemicals left from the inhalants. Depending on the extent of your use, you may experience various withdrawal symptoms during this period, which may include:

  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Vivid dreams.
  • Gaining weight.
  • Tremors.
  • Irritability.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea.
  • Cravings.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

If you believe you or someone you care about has a problem with inhalants, it’s important to find treatment as early as possible. Users can choose between inpatient and outpatient programs to treat their addictions. Inpatient, or residential programs, are often recommended for people who face triggers to abuse drugs at home. Given that many inhalants are household products, you may want to consider seeking treatment at an inpatient rehab center, where access to inhalants can be controlled.

Outpatient programs offer many of the same benefits as inpatient care but offer the added benefit of flexibility, as recovering users can live at home and attend to obligations like work or childcare.

During the course of treatment, inpatient and outpatient programs may offer various forms of therapy and counseling to help the addicted individual recover and learn healthy ways to live without drugs. Treatment plans for inhalation addiction may include the following:

Treatment will focus on identifying the triggers for inhalant use and teaching the skills to cope with those triggers to prevent relapse and live a healthy life of sobriety.

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Many of the volatile chemicals abused as inhalants produce a fast-onset, fleeting high that lasts a few seconds to minutes. As an additional danger, when passing through the nose or mouth, inhalants can severely inhibit the oxygen flow to the brain. These dangerous moments of oxygen deprivation serve to compound the potential mind-altering effects, but can impart serious anoxic brain injury or death on the unsuspecting huffer. In fact, inhalant abuse can lead to an array of damaging short- and long-term effects.

The high only lasts a short period of time, so users will often inhale repeatedly to achieve the same results. Initial effects include dizziness, loss of inhibitions, and misperception of time, which may be followed by nausea, vomiting, slurred speech and loss of coordination.

Users become attracted to the immediacy of intoxication, and the ease of access.

Inhalants can be directly inhaled through the nose, often through an open container, or can be soaked into a towel and “huffed” through the mouth or nose. As users progress in their addiction, they may place the container or rag into a bag, allowing the gases to become more concentrated before inhaling. Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) is commonly inhaled using a balloon filled with the gas.

Am I Addicted to Inhalants?

Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to inhalants is not very common. However, addiction can and does occur in heavy users. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists criteria for an inhalant use disorder, which includes (but is not limited to):

  • Taking inhalants in bigger amounts or for longer than you originally intended.
  • Wanting to stop using but finding yourself unable to do so.
  • Spending excessive amounts of time getting or using inhalants.
  • Neglecting responsibilities in favor of using.
  • Giving up once-enjoyed habits or activities to obtain or use inhalants.
  • Needing more and more to get the same effects (tolerance).

If you’re finding some or all of the above apply to you, you may be addicted–a treatment program could help with your issues.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

Call Our Hotline Today

If you or someone you know has a problem with inhalant abuse and wants to stop, our 24-hour hotline can help you find a rehab clinic near you. Call us today at — our treatment advisors will be happy to help you learn about your options.

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Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for DrugAbuse.com. She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and addiction.
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