Substance abuse has obviously been a societal problem for a very long time, in one guise or another. For centuries - or even millennia - mankind has learned how to use various substances to disconnect from reality and achieve chemical intoxication. This thrill-seeking is rarely without consequence, of course; for that reason, most people choose not to engage in substance abuse.
But while most people are aware of the 'usual suspects' of chemical thrill-seeking substance abuse such as heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth, this same majority of people who choose to abstain are entirely unaware of the vast array of substances available to get high these days.
Over the last few decades, more inventive methods of drug abuse have been employed using extremely common household items. You might be astonished at just how inventive chemical thrill seekers have become, in fact there is a steady increase of people seeking help from our facility in Thailand on a monthly basis.
For example, you might be surprised to learn that everyday household or commercial products such as nutmeg, of all things, can be used to achieve a high. Consume enough of this innocent kitchen cabinet spice (literally an entire box), and a psychedelic high can be attained, sometimes at the expense of a fatal overdose through nutmeg poisoning. Believe it or not, people have actually died from consuming too much nutmeg in order to disconnect from reality.
If that does not surprise you, you might be alarmed to know that some people are mixing codeine with iodine, gasoline, and the red tips of matchbox matches (phosphorus), to produce a dangerous substance with the street name of 'Krokodil,' a substance so nasty that frequent users (at least, the ones who survive) will literally grow nasty scale-like features on their skin.
The truth is, there are countless other inventive ways to get high, and while none of this is intended to scare you in any way, we feel it is important you should know about these less popular practices. One of these alternative methods, known as 'huffing,' has become far more popular recently, and while it is in no way competing with cocaine, heroin, and meth, we have experienced an increase in the number of people seeking inhalant treatment at our rehab center. Inhalant abuse (or huffing) is, unfortunately, on the rise. But what is it exactly?
What Is Inhalant Abuse?
Inhalants encompass a diverse range of readily accessible and relatively inexpensive volatile substances that can quickly induce mind-altering effects and a sense of euphoria. These inhaled substances can be found in common household or commercial products like gasoline, paint thinners, aerosol sprays, glue, and even spray paint.
Although inhalant use may not be as widespread as alcohol or opioid consumption, the development of substance use disorder and compulsive patterns of inhalant use is still possible, with potentially fatal consequences. In other words, you might describe inhalants as a surprising but very real gateway drug of sorts.
The 'high' of intoxicating effects of various types of inhalants are usually quite short-lived, making it easier to hide inhalant addiction from loved ones and family members. More worryingly, the easy accessibility of many inhalant products makes them popular among young people who may not have the resources to obtain more expensive or 'fashionable' drugs. The 2020 National Institute Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that adolescents represented the largest percentage of inhalant users in the U.S. population, with 2.7% (683,000) using inhalants. In total, 2.4 million people aged 12 or older had used inhalants in the previous year.
That's quite a number, you will agree. The notion of 683,000 young people in America alone engaging in abusing inhalant intoxication is actually quite jolting when you take a moment to grasp the enormity of that number.
The association between inhalants and young people is particularly worrying, as inhalants may serve as gateway drugs for some people. As a result, those who abuse inhalants (especially at a young age) might be at a higher risk of using other illicit substances later in life.
But how exactly are these young people abusing inhalants? What is the delivery method employed to serve the 'high' they desire? Chronic inhalant abusers and first-time inhalant abusers actually use several methods. Let's take a look at the most common inhalant abuse delivery methods:
Sniffing or snorting the substances directly from their containers (sometimes leading to 'sudden sniffing death.')
Spraying aerosols such as hair spray or even spray paints into the mouth or nose.
Bagging, which involves spraying or placing the substance into a paper or plastic bag and inhaling or snorting it.
Huffing, where most inhalants are soaked in a rag and placed in the mouth or over the mouth or nose before inhaling.
Inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons filled with nitrous oxide (this one, in particular, is on the rise)
Even though the intoxicating effects of inhalants may only last from a few minutes to an hour, many inhalant users often engage in repeated use over time, leading to habitual use in addition to addictive use - the two are similar but not the same. This long-term inhalant abuse quite often leads to chronic but intermittent exposure to these incredibly harmful substances.
What Types of Inhalants Are Used For 'Huffing?'
Again, those who are unfamiliar with this subject might be surprised at the range of dangerous things used to achieve a high through inhalant abuse. While inhalants cover a vast array of substances, they are mostly divided into four primary categories:
These liquid substances, characterized by strong chemical odors, emit vapors at room temperature and can be found in various products such as felt-tip markers, liquid correction fluid (Wite-Out, for example), glues, gasoline, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluid, paint thinner liquids and removers. Many chronic inhalant abusers may misuse these types of inhalants, leading to long-term inhalant abuse.
These sprayable substances contain solvents and propellants. They include products like hair spray, spray-on deodorant, cooking oil sprays, spray paint, and fabric protection sprays. Aerosol sprays are among the most common types of inhalants often misused, contributing to the growing issue of inhalant addiction.
This category includes substances used as anesthesia for medical procedures (such as ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide, and amyl nitrite) and others found in household and commercial products, such as whipped cream dispensers, butane lighters, propane tanks, and refrigerants. Nitrous oxide is one of the commonly abused inhalants in this group, and inhalant users may develop an addiction to other substances and other drugs by using gases as a starting point.
Some nitrites abused as inhalants are sold in small bottles under street names like leather cleaner, liquid aroma, room odorizer, rush, and video head cleaner. It is important to note that nitrites do not act directly on the central nervous system like most inhalants. Instead, they are often misused as sexual enhancers due to their ability to relax muscles and dilate blood vessels, causing sudden cardiac death in some cases.
Are Inhalants Addictive?
Inhalants are absolutely, without question, highly addictive. Repeated inhalant use can indeed lead to inhalant addiction in time. Many people report a strong compulsion to continue using, particularly if they have been experiencing inhalant abuse for extended periods.
It is important to remember that regular inhalant use is just another type of drug addiction and may also result in the development of tolerance over time. This means that increasing amounts of the substance are needed to achieve the same results, leading to a repeat cycle of abuse. With addiction to inhalants on the increase, loved ones and family members should be made aware of inhalant addiction and addiction treatment options (more on that later in this article.)
Chronic abuse and continued (and possibly escalating) patterns of problematic use can place people at increased risk of several adverse health outcomes—including inhalant overdose, seizures, coma, and even sudden death. Therefore, addressing inhalant abuse and offering appropriate mental health services are crucial for those grappling with inhalant addiction.
Signs of Inhalant Substance Abuse
If you suspect that you or someone you care about may be struggling with inhalant abuse, it is helpful to recognize the following criteria used by treatment professionals to diagnose inhalant use disorder. Long-term use can be extremely harmful, and in some cases, brain damage has been reported.
Engaging in inhalant abuse in higher amounts or for longer durations than initially planned.
Expressing the desire or attempting to reduce or stop inhalant use but being unable to do so.
Devoting significant time to obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of inhalants.
Experiencing strong cravings for inhalants.
Continuing inhalant use despite it interfering with essential home, school, or work responsibilities.
Failing to stop abusing inhalants even after it has caused or worsened issues in social relationships.
Reducing or quitting social activities or hobbies due to inhalant use.
Persisting in inhalant use in situations that can be physically dangerous, such as while driving.
Inability to cease using inhalants despite being aware that it has caused or exacerbated physical or mental health issues.
Developing a tolerance to the effects of inhalants, resulting in the need for larger amounts to achieve the desired high.
Recognizing such signs of inhalant abuse is crucial for seeking timely addiction treatment, support from mental illness services, and assistance from support groups.
Withdrawal from Inhalants
Inhalant dependence and withdrawal symptoms are relatively uncommon, and due to the diverse range of substances that fall under the category of inhalants, there isn't a standard, well-defined withdrawal syndrome applicable to all inhalant substances.
However, certain withdrawal-related symptoms have been reported, which may develop upon abruptly stopping inhalant use after as little as three months of regular use. Typically lasting 2 to 5 days, inhalant withdrawal symptoms can include:
Loss of appetite.
Inhalant withdrawal is typically treated with supportive care in a controlled setting. This involves providing a safe, substance-free environment with a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and medical and mental health supervision, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Following this, patients are connected to a comprehensive treatment program, which may include support groups, behavioral therapy, and other resources to ensure successful recovery from inhalant addiction, especially for chronic abusers.
There Is Hope
At Miracles Asia, our dedicated team of addiction treatment professionals provide personalized care to help individuals overcome the challenges of inhalant addiction. If you or a loved one require inhalants treatment, don't hesitate to reach out to us. Together, we can embark on the journey toward recovery and rediscover a healthy, fulfilling life. Let Miracles Asia be your trusted partner in your fight against inhalant abuse.
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