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There are many products found in the home that are perfectly legal to buy at the store but that also contain substances that have psychoactive properties when they are inhaled. These include cleaning fluid, spray paint, glue, and a number of other products typically found in the household. The intentional inhaling of the fumes from these products to achieve some sort of “high” is a process commonly referred to as huffing.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse:
The general classes of inhalants that serve as drugs of abuse are listed below:
The early symptoms of inhalant abuse may be very similar to intoxication from alcohol. The symptoms include:
There are potential serious consequences associated with inhalant use. There are reports of permanent brain damage; damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys; and even death due to fatal cardiac complications in first-time users and in individuals with prolonged inhalant abuse issues. If individuals who abuse inhalants begin using other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, they will have a much higher probability of developing serious substance use disorders than individuals who do not use inhalants with other drugs.
According to The Inhalant Prevention Resource, there are several signs to look for:
There has been a bit of controversy regarding whether or not the abuse of inhalants leads to physical dependence. The notion of physical dependence, which may or may not be part of a syndrome of addiction (a moderate to severe substance use disorder), is a manifestation of two primarily physiological reactions as a result of chronic drug usage. These two reactions are tolerance (the need to use more of the drug in order to achieve the effects achieved at earlier doses) and withdrawal (a series of physical and psychological symptoms, mostly negative and distressing, that occur when one stops using the drug abruptly or cuts down the dosage).
A 2011 study in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation that used data from the very large National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions databank found that nearly half of the participants who met the criteria for inhalant abuse or addiction reported experiencing at least three clinically significant withdrawal symptoms. These included psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and hallucinations or delusions, as well as physical symptoms, such as sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, chills, fever, and headache.
Thus, the data indicates that there may be mild withdrawal symptoms that occur in individuals with chronic inhalant use disorders. It was noted that in above the study, a good portion of individuals experiencing these withdrawal symptoms continued to use inhalants to avoid experiencing the symptoms as opposed to quitting use. This is a common shared experience among those who abuse drugs that have the potential for withdrawal symptoms.
If parents suspect that their child is using inhalants and/or may be under the influence of inhalants, they should approach the situation from a caring and informed perspective. These following guidelines may help to resolve any initial issues associated with a child under the influence of inhalants and help to get the child into treatment:
It is fair to say that specific treatment protocols for inhalant abuse are probably lacking in most areas of the country. There appears to be a high rate of relapse for those who abuse inhalants, and in some cases, a relatively long detox period is needed. Treatment should consist of:
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