Inhalant abuse (sniffing)


Ear Nose | Pulmonology | Inhalant abuse (sniffing) (Disease)


Description

Inhalants are a broad range of drugs whose volatile vapors are taken in via the nose and trachea. They are taken by volatilization, and do not include drugs that are inhaled after burning or heating. For example, amyl nitrite and toluene are considered inhalants, but tobacco, marijuana, and crack are not.

By displacing air in the lungs, inhalants deprive the body of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia can damage cells throughout the body, but the cells of the brain are especially sensitive to it. The symptoms of brain hypoxia vary according to which regions of the brain are affected: for example, the hippocampus helps control memory, so someone who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations.

Causes and Risk factors

While other abused substances can be inhaled, the term “inhalants” is used to describe substances that are rarely, if ever, taken by any other route of administration. A variety of products common in the home and workplace contain substances that can be inhaled to get high; however, people do not typically think of these products (e. g. , spray paints, glues, and cleaning fluids) as drugs because they were never intended to induce intoxicating effects.

Yet young children and adolescents can easily obtain these extremely toxic substances and are among those most likely to abuse them. Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways (known as “huffing”), such as sniffing or snorting fumes from a container, etc.

The intoxication produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes; therefore, users often try to extend the “high” by continuing to inhale repeatedly over several hours. The effects of inhalants are similar to those of alcohol, including slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. Inhalant abusers may also experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions. With repeated inhalations, many users feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache. Chemicals found in different types of inhaled products may produce a variety of additional effects, such as confusion, nausea, or vomiting.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Long-term inhalant abuse can also break down myelin, a fatty tissue that surrounds and protects some nerve fibers. Because of the damage neurotoxic chemicals cause to the brain, it may be wise to consider the regular, chronic inhalant abuser as having a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency and mental illness. Many approaches and techniques used in typical alcohol and drug treatment apply but a host of other specific issues must also be addressed. ...