Young Adult Inhalant Addiction

National surveys report that approximately 21.7 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, and 13 percent of 8th-graders are no exception. Inhalant abuse is an epidemic among adolescents and young adults that is often ignored: many parents are concerned about drug use, but often disclaim the fact that their child may be using something as simple as household products to get high, and forget about the dangers that those pose to their children.

Inhalants are volatile substances or aerosols that produce chemical vapors and produce psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects when inhaled. Hundreds of different products can be classified as inhalants, many of which are in arm’s reach of your teen. Spray paints, glues, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, hair sprays, whipped cream canisters, and cleaning fluids are just some of the many products teens can abuse for instant intoxication. For young people, especially adolescents, these substances are readily available and abuse of them can be easily hidden from adults.

young adult inhalant rehabThe NIDH classifies inhalants into four general categories: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites. Volatile inhalants are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. As the most common type of inhalants, these can be found in a variety of cheap household products: paint thinners, gasoline, and felt-tip markers are some of the most frequently used by teens and young adults. Aerosols are sprays, like deodorant or cooking sprays, which contain propellants and solvents. Gases can range from medical to household, and the most commonly abused are chloroform and nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”).  While these three categories afflict the central nervous system and are primarily used to alter mood, the final category of inhalants, Nitrites, act as sexual enhancers.

Inhalants are administered exactly as their name implies—they are breathed in through the nose or mouth. The most frequent methods of inhalant abuse are “sniffing” or “snorting” fumes from canisters, or literally spraying aerosol vapors into the nose or mouth. Youth may also “huff” certain substances, and do this by stuffing an inhalant-soaked rag into their mouths. “Bagging” implies the inhaling of fumes through a plastic or paper bag. No matter which way they are administered, though, inhaled chemicals absorb rapidly through the lungs, into the bloodstream, and carry to the brain within mere seconds. The high achieved from inhalants has been compared to the effects of alcohol abuse, but even a single use of inhalants poses the risk of fatality.

Your teen does not need to be addicted to inhalants for him to be in danger of their detrimental effects. Sporadic or one-time use of inhalants is enough to alter oxygen levels and cause suffocation, asphyxiation, choking, seizures, and coma. Regular inhalant abuse can result in serious brain damage when oxygen to the brain is cut off, impairing the areas that control cognition, movement, vision, and hearing. Inhalant abuse can also lead to irregular heart rhythms and fatal cardiac arrest.  The effects of prolonged inhalant abuse are often irreversible. 

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Addiction

If you believe your son is abusing inhalants, it is extremely critical to address the problem immediately. Warning signs of inhalant abuse can be as obvious as chemical odors on his breath or paint stains on clothing. He may even have empty solvent canisters hidden away in his room.

Other symptoms of inhalant abuse may be less recognizable and distinguishable, however. Your teen may come home appearing to be drunk, but may actually be high on inhalants. Similarly to alcohol intoxication, inhalants initially produce feelings of euphoria, but bring about worsened symptoms:

  • Belligerence
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired functioning and lack of coordination
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depressed reflexes
  • Slurred or incomprehensible speech
  • Nausea or loss of appetite

Side effects of an inhalant addiction include:

  • Cognitive deficits
  • Depression
  • Lack of ability to function in work or social settings
  • Constant headaches
  • Apathy and agitation

Inhalant Addiction Treatment

For many young adults using inhalants, one time is not enough. Along with inhalant abuse comes with a strong need to continue using, and withdrawal symptoms to compliment that need. Inhalant addiction is most often defined by the compulsion that users have to seek out a drug of choice, and many young, addicted individuals will carry out abuse over a several day period. This is an extremely risky practice.

Regular inhalant abuse has been associated with severe withdrawal symptoms, and professional treatment must be enacted in order to properly treat an inhalant addiction. Not only this, but inhalant users are more likely to seek out the abuse of other substances as a result of their withdrawals. Research has indicated that teen inhalant users are more likely to initiate the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and almost all other drugs at much younger ages than their peers. They also display a higher lifetime prevalence of substance use disorders when compared with substance abusers without a history of inhalant use. As a result, early intervention is a crucial step in keeping an inhalant addiction from controlling and impairing your son. By changing his trajectory away from inhalant abuse, and by seeking out a proper treatment facility for his addiction, you can steer him towards positive behaviors and a lifetime free from drug abuse.