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The Dangers of Inhalants

Inhalant abuse is one of the most understudied and poorly understood of all types of substance abuse. However, people have been purposefully concentrating and inhaling these chemicals for decades, and recent trends might indicate that inhalant abuse is slowly growing. Exceptional public concern has been raised about the abuse of inhalants, but because these chemicals are found in everyday household products, little can be done to regulate this problem. As a result these drugs are often used by those who would otherwise have difficulty obtaining street drugs or alcohol, such as teenagers and adolescents, the incarcerated, rehab patients, and those under medical or psychological care of some sort. Unfortunately, the dangers of inhalants are very real and quite simply can lead to a rapid, unexpected death.

Chemical vapors found in common household products like butane, furniture polish, air fresheners, glue and many others will produce a psychoactive effect or “high” when deliberately concentrated and inhaled. But unlike other drugs, few studies have been done on inhalant use and few regulation efforts have been attempted because these products were never in any way intended for human consumption. Consequently the results of abusing inhalants can be catastrophic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse;

“Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death within minutes of a session of repeated inhalation. This syndrome, known as “sudden sniffing death,” can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy young person.” (1)

Additionally, the NIDA reports other serious, deadly effects;

“High concentrations of inhalants may also cause death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs, causing the user to lose consciousness and stop breathing.” (1)

These severe and often sudden effects might explain why addiction to inhalants is so rare. While chronic users can become physically and psychologically dependent upon these drugs, it’s not likely. The NIDA also reports that;

“Although not very common, addiction to inhalants can occur with repeated abuse. According to the 2007 Treatment Episode Data Set, inhalants were reported as the primary substance abused by less than 0.1 percent of all individuals admitted to substance abuse treatment.” (1)

Despite these risks, more than 2 million Americans abused inhalants in the year 2009 alone. (2) For those that do use these substances without lasting physical or psychological damage, there are other effects that could last long after a person has stopped using. For the large population of adolescents who use inhalants, this has certain implications that could prove life-long. The Anti Drug states that:

“The National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates a correlation between early inhalant use and delinquent behaviors, substance abuse and other problems later in life.” (3) Whether these individuals were just as likely to experience these problems independent of abusing inhalants is unclear, but the associations are striking. Figures used to determine this correlation could also be skewed because of the pseudo-gateway-drug association that many in the addiction industry relate to household inhalants.

Because the consequences of abusing inhalants can be so severe, it’s important to get help right now if you have been using these chemicals. Call the number at the top of your screen to speak to an addiction and substance abuse expert confidentially, and free of charge. We can help guide you and discuss real options to help save your life such as inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and our powerful day/night treatment program. Don’t wait – your life may depend on this call.

(1) National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA InfoFacts: Inhalants
Accessed 07/22/2011

(2) National Institute on Drug Abuse Inhalants
Accessed 07/22/2011

(3) The Anti Drug Inhalants and Huffing
Accessed 07/22/2011

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More