Commonly found in most households, inhalants can come in many forms, such as general purpose cleaners, industrial and household glues, aerosol products and even gasoline. Drug users often ingest these drugs through direct inhalation or by the process of “huffing” — capturing the gas from inhalants in an apparatus such as a paper bag and breathing the substance in.
Though inhalant abuse generally receives less attention than other, more mainstream forms of drug use, inhalants can be inherently dangerous, leading to severe brain damage, respiratory problems and instant death upon inhalation — even from a single use. Over time, inhalant addiction can develop, leading to psychological dependency that can require professional addiction recovery intervention to successfully treat.
How Inhalant Addiction Works
From gasoline huffing to the inhalation of nitrous oxide through whipped cream canisters (colloquially called “whippets”), inhalants can affect the brain within seconds. With a relatively low price tag, inhalants produce toxic vapors when their gases are released.
These vapors are almost immediately absorbed by the lung tissue, infusing the blood stream with toxins that make their way to the brain. As inhalants begin to take effect in the brain, natural chemistry becomes altered — producing a high that often only lasts for a matter of minutes.
However, the short-lived high inhalants produce often leads users to hold gases within their lungs for prolonged periods, or engage in hazardous and rapid repeated use. The brain’s reward pathways can also become reconditioned by inhalant abuse, leading users’ brains to associate inhalant use with pleasurable feelings.
Consequences of Inhalant Addiction
Inhalants take action on two important portions of the brain — the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. As a result, the body’s Central Nervous System becomes affected, leading to a host of side effects, including mood swings, cognitive and memory problems, uncontrolled laughter and even hallucinations.
Vision problems also have become a hallmark of inhalant abuse, as the drugs take their toll on the ophthalmic nerve. Balance and coordination can also become compromised — even leading to lasting damage — due to inhalants’ effects on the cerebellum. Neurological damage can also take place with prolonged inhalant use, as neurons in the brain experience damage to their naturally protective covering, known as the myelin sheath. Transmission of electrical messages throughout the brain and body become impeded, causing cell death (known as apoptosis) and even long-term brain damage.
The nervous system becomes incredibly taxed by repeated inhalant usage. During the inhalant high itself, users might experience euphoric feelings, along with slurring of speech and feelings of nausea or dizziness. Tremors, shaking and exhaustion can set in shortly after inhalation occurs. Because of inhalants’ effects on the neurological system in the body, automatic processes such as natural breathing patterns and heart rate can also become irregular.