‘Huffing’ a Growing Problem in Adults
Huffing. Sniffing. Bagging. No matter what it’s called, inhalant abuse is an ongoing problem in the adolescent population. Unfortunately, increasing evidence shows that adults are latching onto this dangerous form of substance abuse as well. If you suspect an adult you love is abusing inhalants, it’s critical to learn more about this dangerous habit and get him or her into drug rehab treatment.
Adults now make up more than half of the patients being admitted to treatment for inhalant abuse, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It’s not just young adults either. The survey revealed that 32% of the admitted adults were between the ages of 32 and 44 while 16% were older than 45. Overall, an estimated 1.1 million adults abused inhalants in the last year .
Inhalants are attractive to drug users for several reasons. Because the chemicals are found in household products, they’re easy to find. There’s no need to visit a shady part of town to buy them. Inhalants are also inexpensive, making them an accessible substance for people of any economic status.
Inhalants are Toxic Chemicals
While all abused substances carry potential risks, inhalants are particularly dangerous. Inhalants are breathable chemicals found in many everyday products, from furniture polish to computer cleaner sprays. Other commonly available inhalants include whipped cream aerosol cans, vegetable oil sprays, varnish removers, paint thinners, correction fluids, and felt tip markers. When used as intended, we don’t feel the effects of the chemicals inside the products.
However, when the products are abused, they create a high. Inhalants are usually taken directly into the lungs by breathing in the chemical through the nose or mouth directly from the container or from a bag filled with the chemical. Some users will inhale directly from a cloth soaked in the chemical. The high produces hallucinations and feelings of euphoria. Addicts may also use nitrite-based products, like leather cleaners or room deodorizers, because they believe the chemicals enhance sexual pleasure.
In addition to triggering the high, inhalants also deliver toxic chemicals to the body. The inhalant works by displacing the air inside the lungs, a process called hypoxia. Deeply breathing the vapors delivers chemicals in doses hundreds of times greater than the maximum allowed in industrial settings.
Risks of Inhalant Use
The risks include loss of coordination and inhibition as well as dangerous hallucinations and delusions. Life-threatening risks include suffocation due to the displacement of oxygen in the lungs, to heart failure from the loss of proper heart rhythm. Inhalants have also been linked to liver and kidney damage.
Brain cells are especially vulnerable to the abuse, which is why inhalants have such a profound impact on functions like memory, learning new things, and even carrying on a conversation. Inhalant use may cause permanent brain damage and death—these can happen any time a person huffs, even the first time. Users face the risk of an overdose every time they abuse the substance, making drug rehab that much more critical.
Signs of Inhalant Abuse in Adults
- Chemical odors on breath or clothing
- Hidden containers of inhalant products
- Slurred speech
- Weight loss
- Poor concentration
- Poor hygiene
Inhalant Abuse Treatment
This is a serious problem that requires immediate and professional treatment. Because of the risk of devastating and life-threatening consequences, there is no time to wait to see if the person will stop on his or her own. Consider using a professional interventionist to get the addict into treatment as soon as possible.
Not every drug rehab treatment center has the resources to treat inhalant abuse, so it may take several tries to find a qualified facility. To be effective, treatment must be within an inpatient setting. Detoxification is necessary, and, because the chemicals are so pervasive, that process will take several weeks. Withdrawal symptoms are common and may include hallucinations, nervousness, muscle pain, psychosis, insomnia, seizures and aggression. A medical staff will monitor the addict and provide medications to relieve symptoms and address complications.
Long-term success requires a detailed treatment strategy that addresses the addict’s entire well-being: physical, emotional and intellectual. After detox, addiction specialists will assess the addict for cognitive and physical damage caused by the inhalant. This testing provides a foundation for building a rehab plan that address all of his or her needs.
One of the challenges in treating this type of substance abuse is its effect on cognition, or thinking ability. For example, the inability to concentrate may require shorter individual treatment sessions, sometimes as brief as 15 or 20 minutes, especially at the onset of drug rehab treatment. Sessions may also be informal to accommodate an addict’s reduced ability to think and reason.
Intensive aftercare will be crucial for long-term recovery. An addict may require a sober living facility where he or she can start to live a normal life without the stresses and pressures that spur relapse. Recovery may also require career counseling and life skills training. Addicts with lasting physical side effects may need therapy to improve hand-eye coordination and other skills.
It’s likely that living accommodations will need to be made after inpatient or sober living concludes. For instance, it might be necessary to eliminate inhalable substances from work or living areas. If the recovering addict lives with others, like family or roommates, they’ll need to be aware of the problem so they can avoid inadvertently tempting the addict by, for example, keeping computer cleaning sprays in the home.
Many inhalants are highly addictive, so it’s unlikely that abusers can “will” themselves into a sober life. Recovery from inhalant abuse will not be easy. It will require medically monitored detox, inpatient treatment and long-term aftercare. The alternative, however, is devastating. Left untreated, inhalant abuse can cause serious, lasting health consequences. In some cases, it leads to permanent brain damage or death.
If someone you love is abusing inhalants, talk to them about getting treatment now–before it’s too late. A drug rehab center experienced in treating this type of substance abuse will have the resources needed to help your loved one overcome this potentially devastating addiction.