We don’t normally think of household items like spray paints and cleaning fluids and school supplies like glues and markers as drugs. And why should we? After all, they were never intended to be used as drugs. But the truth of the matter is that these contain substances that can have an effect on the brain when they are breathed in and this is how adolescents and young children get to abuse these substances.
The most common types of inhalants that are frequently abused are volatile solvents, aerosols, gases and nitrites. Volatile solvents refer to products like paint thinners, gasoline and dry-cleaning fluids which are often used by industries or households. Correction fluids, glues and electronic contact cleaners are also considered as solvents.
Spray paints, fabric protector sprays, computer cleaning products and vegetable oil sprays are classified as aerosols. Gases are another category of inhalants which include dispensers for whipped cream, refrigerant gases and butane lighters and propane tanks. Ether, chloroform and nitrous oxide—popularly known as laughing gas— are just some of the medical anesthetics that may also be abused. The final category of inhalants is known as organic nitrites. Commonly called “poppers,” cyclohexyl, amyl nitrites and butyl are used mainly to enhance the sex drive. The organic nitrites which are sold for this purpose are often marketed as “room odorizer,” “liquid aroma” and “leather cleaner.”
Inhalants are ingested through the process known as huffing. They breathe the inhalants by using a dispenser, spray aerosols, soaking a rag in the chemical and putting it into their mouth or by fume inhalation straight into their mouth or nose. Since the effects of inhalants are short-lived, typically lasting only for a few minutes, abusers repeat the process over and over so that the pleasurable effects can be experienced for a few hours.
Inhalants contain chemicals which cause nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, euphoria, dizziness and lack of coordination. However, these short-term effects are nothing compared to the serious damage that inhalants can cause. Abusers risk damage to their liver and kidneys as well as their bone marrows. They may also cause hearing loss. In addition, loss of coordination and spasms of the lower extremities can also occur. When oxygen flow to the brain is stopped when using inhalants, brain damage can result.
However, this is nothing compared to the fatal effects that inhalants can bring to users. “Sudden sniffing death” is the syndrome which occurs when a healthy person sniffs very concentrated amounts of chemicals. In just a few minutes, this sniffing from aerosol sprays can lead to heart failure. When the inhalants are sniffed from a paper bag or plastic bag in a confined area without ventilation, suffocation can also result. Nitrites increase the user’s risk of getting sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS because it can cause addicts to engage in risky sexual behavior.
It’s important for parents to intervene right away if they suspect that their children are abusing inhalants. By bringing them to the right rehabilitation program, young inhalant abusers have a shot at regaining their futures and living a drug-free life.