What are the Physical and Psychological Effects of Inhalants?

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Inhalants are chemical vapors that cut off the brain’s supply of oxygen when inhaled. This lack of oxygen causes the brain to produce mind-altering effects that range from depressive to stimulating. What’s frightening about inhalants is that many can be found around the home, and you wouldn’t think twice about them. The familiarity of these products, many of which are cleaning solutions, attract young teens and can start the cycle of abuse.

While inhalants are often associated with the young, these dangerous solutions don’t stop there. When addicts are desperate for a quick fix, they will turn to any type of drug. If you have a loved one that is battling addiction or alcoholism in their adult years, inhalants pose a threat. They are readily available and found in most homes. And, since addicts are being controlled by their addiction, they don’t care what types of negative consequences can occur from inhalants.

Types of Inhalants

Inhalants can be broken down into four categories:

Volatile Solvents: These liquids vaporize at room temperature when exposed to air and are found in many household cleaners and industrial products.

Aerosols: These sprays contain solvents and propellants.

Gases: The most widely abused gases include chloroform and nitrous oxide. These gases are contained in medical anesthetics, household cleaners and commercial products.

Nitrites: The most commonly abused nitrites include amyl and butyl nitrite. Nitrites do not work in the same way as other inhalants, but they do dilate the blood vessels and relax the muscles.

What are the Physical Effects?

Inhalants leave the body with a feeling similar to intoxication. The difference is that this feeling comes on immediately instead of over time. When the gases or solvents are inhaled, they cut off oxygen to the brain. This causes the heart to beat more rapidly in order to increase oxygen, and the immediate reactions include dizziness, stimulant effects and distortions. As the brain begins to receive normal oxygen levels again, the effects go away. Unfortunately, one time is not enough for some, and they continue to inhale to get the same high.

Even when oxygen is restored, that doesn’t mean that the user goes back to feeling normal. The senses are depressed, and proper blood flow must be restored. It’s common for users to feel tired and lethargic, but they may also suffer from nausea or vomiting, headaches, loss of motor coordination and slurred speech. Inhalants affect all parts of the body, including the blood, bone marrow, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs. Some users also develop skin rashes around the nose and mouth from repeatedly inhaling toxic chemicals.

What are the Psychological Effects?

Inhalants affect both the mind and body. When using inhalants, users will experience a head rush, meaning that their perception of time and space are altered for a few seconds or minutes. During this short high, users may also get the giggles and stumble around as they try to regain coordination. The brain is being starved of oxygen, so it cannot make the proper connections to think clearly. Both short- and long-term inhalant use can lead to brain damage.

Digging deeper, inhalants affect all parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and ophthalmic nerve. Inhalants dissolve the protective myelin sheath that protects the brain, and it causes brain cells to die. Over a prolonged period of time, this loss of brain cells can lead to personality changes, memory impairment and learning difficulties. And, since inhalants affect the cerebellum, chronic abusers may experience tremors and shaking.

What are the Signs of Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant use may not leave behind strong odors as other drugs do, but they do cause personality changes. The most common signs of an underlying dependency on inhalants include spots or sores around the nose and mouth, stains on the body or clothing, hidden rags and cloths and chemical odors on the breath. Also look for the standard signs of any addiction, such as withdrawing from family and friends, irritability, poor work performance or a dazed appearance.

There are certain types of paraphernalia that may indicate a problem as well, such as empty canisters, balloons, rags, cloths and bottles of household cleaning products. It’s important to keep the home safe if your loved one already has a history of abuse or alcoholism, so keep these types of household and commercial cleaning products in a locked cabinet, or make your own natural solutions using vinegar and water instead.

Inhalants may not look dangerous on the outside, but they have serious physical and psychological effects that can leave a user with brain impairment, brain damage or even death. Inhalants are nothing to gamble with, at any age. If you or a loved one needs help with a dependency to inhalants, contact The River Source at 1-888-687-7332. We can help.