People often misuse easy-to-access substances as a way to cope with emotional distress or other issues affecting their mental or physical health. Some individuals diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) have a history of misusing inhalants. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 0.8% (or about 2.2 million people) reported using inhalants in the past 12 months.” Exclusive Hawaii Rehab uses evidence-based and alternative holistic therapies to treat inhalant abuse and other forms of SUD.

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are substances some people use to experience a “high.” According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Inhalants are invisible, volatile substances found in common household products that produce chemical vapors that are inhaled to induce psychoactive or mind altering effects.” People abuse four primary types of inhalants: aerosols, volatile solvents, nitrates, and gases.

Everyday household items misused as inhalants include:

  • Glues
  • Shoe polish
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Spray paint
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Nitros oxide
  • Paint or paint thinners
  • Hairspray
  • Nail polish remover
  • Keyboard cleaner
  • Whipped cream and substances stored in pressurized cans

Abusing these substances has a significant negative impact on mental and physical health. The immediate side effects are very similar to alcohol and include slurred speech, lack of coordination, difficulty focusing, headache, and dizziness. Inhalants are incredibly dangerous due to the potential for severe physical side effects and their accessibility.

The Impact of Inhalants on Cognitive Health

Inhalants create a temporary “high” by affecting brain function. According to NIDA, “Many inhalants affect the brain in ways similar to depressants like tranquilizers, sedatives, or alcohol, although the effects are usually shorter-lasting.”

Some of the known side effects of inhalant abuse include:

  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty maintaining coordination
  • Hearing loss
  • Changes in temperament
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Memory problems

Chronic abuse of certain inhalants has the potential to cause permanent brain damage and addiction. Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, is one of the most common causes of brain damage in individuals who misuse inhalants. The hippocampus, a region of the brain affecting learning, memory, and emotion regulation, is the area most often affected by inhalant-related hypoxia.

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Long-Term Health Effects of Misusing Inhalants

Short-term effects of inhalant abuse impact how the brain communicates with various body systems. Common short-term side effects include slurred speech, confusion, tremors, and muscle weakness. Chronic inhalant abuse leads to more severe and long-lasting or permanent health issues, including:

  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Psychosis
  • Brain damage
  • Liver or kidney damage
  • Delayed behavioral development
  • Spasms in extremities
  • Coma

According to Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, “Inhalant use can result in chemical and thermal burns, withdrawal symptoms, persistent mental illness, and catastrophic medical emergencies such as ventricular arrhythmias leading to ‘sudden sniffing death.'” Younger individuals are more likely to misuse inhalants due to their easy accessibility. Adolescents and young adults are often unaware of the significant health dangers associated with inhalant abuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse

The signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse exist along a spectrum and may vary significantly from person to person. However, the most common signs of inhalant abuse include:

  • Frequent chemical odors on the person’s breath and clothing
  • Stains on skin and clothing from paint or other inhalant substances
  • Significant and unintentional weight loss
  • Mood swings and abrupt changes in temperament
  • Abruptly spending time with a new social group
  • Decrease in school performance or work productivity
  • Ulcers or frequent skin irritation around the mouth and nose
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoid thoughts or behaviors
  • Secretive behaviors

People who misuse inhalants may begin to hoard certain products or substances in their rooms. An increase in chemical smells or accumulation of chemical products may indicate someone is misusing inhalants. A clinical assessment is necessary to diagnose someone with SUD.

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Treatment Options at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab uses behavior modification, psychotherapy, and other evidence-based methodologies to help clients recover and develop essential coping skills.

Some of the treatment options available to clients include:

  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Experiential therapy
  • Alternative holistic therapies, including art or music therapy

Clinicians use a whole-person approach to treatment, reducing the adverse effects of inhalant abuse. According to the Permanente Journal, “The treatment of inhalant use disorder is similar to that of other substance abuse disorders and includes supportive care, pharmacotherapy, and behavioral therapy.” Prevention education is also an essential part of treatment for inhalant abuse.

Addressing Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Many people who misuse inhalants have co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) or other depressive disorders
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harming thoughts or behaviors

In some cases, people use inhalants as a way to self-medicate and reduce the effects of mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, inhalant abuse only compounds issues related to mental health.

Inhalants and Creating a Safe Space for Long-Term Recovery

Substances used as inhalants are much harder to avoid during treatment and aftercare compared to alcohol and other substances. Some people may worry about leaving the structured environment of treatment. Returning home involves entering a space where people have much easier access to household cleaners, gasoline, glue, and other common substances used as inhalants. Exclusive Hawaii Rehab helps individuals and families prepare for long-term recovery by providing them with relapse prevention strategies and educating them on how to create a safe living environment.