Inhalants

Inhalants: whippets, poppers, snappers, laughing gas 

solvents-liquids that become gas at room temperature, nail polish remover, paint thinner, paint remover, gasoline, carburetor cleaner, AC coolant, glue, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, dusters, spray paint, hair spray, whipped cream, room deodorizers; gases – helium, nitrous oxide, whippets, ethanol; nitrites prescription medicine for chest pain 

Inhalants are unstable liquids or aerosol sprays that produce many of the same psychoactive effects as street drugs. Inhalants are also classified as deliriants (solid hallucinogens) and they include a wide variety of substances and delivery methods. Delivery methods can include: liquids that give off fumes, gases that form in pressurized tanks and aerosol cans that are sprayed. These substances are inhaled through the nose and/or mouth and sometimes sprayed directly in the nose or mouth. Methods of inhaling include sniffing, huffing, “bagging,” and spraying.  Inhalants are used for their intoxicating and occasionally psychedelic effects.

Inhalants are popular because they are cheap, readily available at work, home, or on the street. They also have a fast-acting effect.  The ease of access to inhalants makes them especially popular for children, adolescents, and the lower income population.  

The effects of inhalants can manifest as temporary stimulation, elevated mood, and reduced inhibition. Heavy use can cause illusions, hallucinations, and delusions. These effects can resemble alcohol or sedative intoxication. After prolonged inhalation, multiple medical issues can occur. These consist of heart and vascular problems, lung problems, liver toxicity, and blood problems which can lead to brain damage.  Long term use of inhalants can be characterized as inhalant abuse. Inhalant abuse can cause a lack of coordination, weakness, disorientation, an inability to concentrate, and weight loss. Chronic abuse can produce irreversible mental impairment.

Some warning signs of inhalant use disorder are:

  • Tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Depressed reflexes
  • Blurred vision

Some external signs to help identify inhalant use disorder in someone:

  • Inflamed nose and nosebleeds
  • Chemical odor on the body and the clothes
  • Red, glassy, watery eyes
  • Tremors
  • Short term memory loss
  • Emotional instability
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Slow, thick, slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination

Treating inhalant use disorders can be difficult due to the cognitive impairments that hinder comprehension and recovery. There is often a cross tolerance to other substances, such as alcohol, that develops with long term use. All substance abuse is addressed in therapy but due to the stigma surrounding inhalant use, users tend to under report their use of inhalants.  An additional barrier to identifying Inhalant Use Disorder is the fact that inhalants do not show up on basic urine drug screens that are often used in treatment. The presence of any co-occurring disorders should be addressed throughout treatment.  Treatment may be done at outpatient, residential or partial hospitalization level and can include individual and group therapy utilizing evidence-based curriculum.  Medical intervention during treatment may also be appropriate.