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What are the Short and Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Use?

Chances are, you have hundreds of inhalant drugs in your house right now. Paint thinner, glue, spray paint, gasoline, and even felt-tip markers all contain inhalant chemicals.

Using these substances just once is risky, as they’ve been associated with sudden death. Long-term use is even more dangerous due to the way the body stores and processes these chemicals. Ongoing use can lead to brain damage, kidney disease, vision loss, and more.

Inhalants are also associated with addiction. Continued abuse leads to cell changes that move your use from voluntary to compulsory. You may be unable to stop using inhalants, or you may develop an addiction to a secondary substance, like alcohol. 

You may not be able to eradicate inhalants from your home, as more than 1,000 common products can be used for this purpose. But understanding the risks you face could entice you to turn down the next hit when it’s offered to you.

Inhalant Intoxication Is Short-Lived

Inhalants are volatile compounds, meaning that they break apart when exposed to the air. It is this characteristic that gives many inhalants their distinctive scent.

To take in these substances, people either place their noses or mouths very close to the substance or they pour or spray the drug in a bag or on a rag and sniff from there. Users are hoping to achieve a big high, but unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Inhalant intoxication is measured in minutes, and it typically takes hold in three phases.

  • High: People feel stimulated, happy, and uninhibited.
  • Low: Slurred speech, dizziness, disorientation, and sleep characterize this phase.
  • Repeat: Another dose is required to achieve euphoria.

Your weight, your age, the drug you choose, and more can all affect how long the high lasts. But typically, one dose doesn’t persist for hours. Most fade away very quickly unless you take more.

Intoxication is one of the few inhalant side effects that is truly short term. Most of the other changes that come about due to this form of drug abuse will persist, and some might cost you your life.

Even One Dose Can Cause Death 

When we think about drug abuse deaths, we often think about people who abuse substances for years, and their bodies eventually tire due to the ongoing abuse. While some medical conditions caused by inhalants are due to constant exposure, even one inhalant hit can kill you. That’s what makes these drugs so very dangerous.

inhalant intoxication

Inhalants can change the rate, strength, and speed of your heartbeat. Those irregularities can prompt the heart to beat so erratically that it can’t sustain blood flow throughout your body. This can cause death.

Some methods of inhalant use can deprive your body of oxygen. For example, some people place inhalants in plastic bags, and they put those bags close to their mouths. If the high is strong and these people pass out, the plastic could block the nose or mouth, leading to asphyxiation.

Inhalant overdose is also possible, and with some drugs, it’s probable. These products are not designed for drug use. There is no dosing information to tell you how much to take and how to take it. You could end up taking in a dose that is too strong for your body to handle, and that can lead to death. 

According to FRANK, the number of deaths attributed to inhalants between 2000 and 2008 was higher among those 10 to 15 years old than the number of deaths due to illegal drugs. People who think inhalants are safe because they are common could be making a life-threatening error.

Ongoing use can lead to other serious medical conditions, including some issues that touch your brain.

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Brain Damage Linked to Use 

The profound changes caused by inhalant abuse come at a steep price in terms of brain health. The chemicals inside inhalants are toxic to brain tissue. When important cells endure enough exposure, they may not function as well as they did previously.

For example, the inhalant toluene can break apart a protective neuron sheath. When that happens, signals can scatter before they reach their intended target. That can lead to tremors, stumbling, and other movement disorders associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Inhalants can also damage the portions of the brain responsible for:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Memory
  • Cognition

This damage builds over time, so the more inhalants used, the bigger the impact. People with mild damage may feel just a touch of fuzziness or memory loss. Those with a significant impairment may have symptoms akin to severe dementia.

The brain damage can also manifest in sudden, hard-to-ignore symptoms. Researchers suggest that some types of inhalants cause damage to receptors within the eye. When that happens, people can lose their vision.

Brain damage like this often can’t be corrected. Therapy is designed to help people live with the challenges their damaged brains deliver. For some, this means living an entirely different type of life.

Continued Use Damages Organs 

brain changes

Just as your brain can be harmed by repeated use of inhalants, the organs can also suffer.

Researchers suggest that inhalant chemicals are stored and processed within fatty tissues in the body. That means inhalant levels can build within vital organs, such as the liver. Even one dose can also cause intense damage to the lungs, the heart, the kidneys, and the adrenal gland.

Some organs can regenerate. When they are damaged, they start creating new cells and removing old ones. The lungs, for example, have the remarkable ability to seal off injury and replace damage, so you can keep breathing after a terrible illness.

But not all organs can do this, and some damage is too extensive to repair fully. It isn’t uncommon for people with a longstanding inhalant abuse issue to develop organ issues that persist and follow them for the rest of life.

Addictions May Also Develop 

The brain changes caused by inhalants can change your relationship with drugs. These alterations can cause you to lose control over your drug use, and that can lead to addiction.

Inhalant abuse has also been associated with the use and abuse of other drugs. You may wean away from inhalants to alcohol, for example, and you may develop alcoholism in time.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that inhalant abusers start using cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs at younger ages, and they have a higher rate of substance use disorders compared to the general population.

It’s clear that this isn’t an issue inhalant abusers can ignore.

Addiction is characterized by:

  • Continued use even if you want to stop. You may try to give up drugs repeatedly, but you may always return to use. The drugs may stay a part of your life despite health issues, relationship problems, and financial distress.
  • Risky behavior. When drugs are more important to you than all else, you’ll say or do almost anything to get them, including stealing, driving under the influence, and hurting people.
  • Obsession. Getting or taking drugs consumes your thoughts to the detriment of almost anything else.
  • Tolerance. You may need to use more and more of the same substance to achieve a high that once came easily.

Addictions can’t be cured, but they can be controlled. With the help of a qualified team, you can learn more about your addiction triggers, and you can come up with techniques to fend off the urge to use.

Without that help, addictions can be life-threatening. They are the most serious long-term consequences facing people who abuse inhalants.

Protect Your Body 

Inhalant use can make you feel incredible for a few minutes. But the damage you do with each hit can have a profound impact on your health and happiness. In some cases, inhalants can even take your life away.
If you don’t use inhalants now, don’t start. If you do and you’re not sure how to quit, ask for help. Take the first step to end inhalant addiction today.

Sources

(March 2015). Inhalant Abuse. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 2019 from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15742-inhalant-abuse

(February 2017). What Are Inhalants? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/inhalants

(September 2010). Inhalant Abuse. Paediatrics and Child Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2948777/

Glues, Gases, and Aerosols. FRANK. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.talktofrank.com/drug/glues-gases-and-aerosols#the-risks

(July 2012). What Are the Other Consequences of Inhalant Abuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-are-other-medical-consequences-inhalant-abuse

(October 2010). Poppers-Associated Retinal Toxicity. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1005118

(October 2012). Inhalant Abuse—A Rising Public Health Problem. International Journal of Medical Science and Public Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ejmanager.com/mnstemps/67/67-1350318108.pdf?t=1549920522

(July 2012). What Are the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Use? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-are-short-long-term-effects-inhalant-use

(October 2018). What Are the Symptoms of Addiction? Medical News Today. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323459.php

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