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Information on Inhalant Abuse and How Support Systems Can Help

rehabilitation inhalants drug centers

Are you or someone you care about struggling with an addiction to inhalants? Please call us, our knowledgeable staff can help you choose a treatment program that will meet your needs!

drug rehab drug rehab for inhalants

Commonly Abused Inhalants

commonly abused inhalants

What Are Inhalants?

Although people tend to associate harmful drugs with drug dealers or even pharmacies, they can also be found in your garage or home. To get high, some people inhale the chemical vapors produced by common household substances. This is a very dangerous, often deadly practice.

The class of intoxicants known as "inhalants" encompasses a wide range of chemicals found in hundreds of different everyday products. Precise categorization is difficult, since inhalant chemicals have different effects on the body.

One classification system lists four general categories of inhalants - volatile solvents, aerosol, gases, and nitrites - based on the form in which they are often found in household, industrial, and medical products.

  1. Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperatures. They are found in many cheap, easily available products used for common household and industrial purposes. These include paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, felt-tip markers and more.
  2. Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents, including spray paints, deodorants, hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking and fabric protector sprays.
  3. Gases include medical anesthetics, as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Medical anesthetic gases include ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called "laughing gas"). Of these, nitrous oxide is the most abused.
  4. Nitrites are often considered a special class, since they don’t act directly on the central nervous system (CNS) like other inhalants. Nitrites act primarily to dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. And while other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite.

Why People Use Inhalants

Inhalants can be purchased legally, they’re easy to get, and they’re cheap. Therefore, young people frequently abuse them. Volatile solvents, gases, and aerosols are often among the first drugs that young children use. One national survey indicates about 6% of U.S. children have tried inhalants by the time they reach fourth grade.

How are inhalants used?

Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or the mouth in a variety of ways, such as:

How to recognize inhalant abuse

ways to recognize inhalant abuse
  • "Sniffing" or "snorting" fumes from containers
  • Spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth
  • "Bagging" - sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or deposited inside a plastic or paper bag
  • "Huffing" from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth
  • Inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide

Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream, quickly heading for the brain and other organs.  In minutes, the user experiences intoxication along with other effects similar to those produced by alcohol:  slurred speech, an inability to coordinate movements, euphoria, and dizziness. 

Inhalant users may also experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions (such as thinking they can fly).

Because intoxication lasts only a few minutes, abusers try to prolong the high by continuing to inhale repeatedly over the course of several hours...
an extremely dangerous practice!

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse

 Short-Term Effects

Long-Term Effects

  • A rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication
    with initial excitement, then drowsiness, loss of
    inhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Anesthesia, loss of sensation and even
  • Belligerence
  • Apathy
  • Impaired judgment and functioning in work
    or social situations.
  • Dizziness, drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Depressed reflexes
  • General muscle weakness
  • Stupor
  • Toxic overdose/death

  • Addiction
  • Overdose risk
  • Brain damage, including severe dementia
  • Lung damage
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Inattentiveness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Heart failure/"sudden sniffing death"

Nerve fiber deterioration in an inhalant abuser

nerve fiber deterioration in an inhalant abuser

Treatment for Inhalant Abuse

Support Systems Homes provides several treatment options for addiction to inhalants. Depending on the severity of addiction, we provide the following treatments.

Like most abused drugs, inhalants can create a physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal can be painful, sometimes dangerous.

A detoxification program helps you clean the drug out of your system while in a safe environment. Our clinical staff supports you during this first step in the recovery process. Support Systems Homes detox staff will help you manage cravings, get through withdrawal, and link you to a longer-term rehab program, such as residential treatment.

Residential Treatment (Residential Drug Rehab)
Residential Treatment participants live in a safe, supervised setting for an amount of time determined by you and your counselor – typically 30 days.

In a structured setting, clients can focus completely on recovering from addictive behavior. Participants receive drug education, individual counseling, group counseling, family counseling, introduction to community-based self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, and referrals to community resources.

You'll develop a plan to help achieve and maintain long-term recovery.

Residential treatment also offers the chance to form support networks with others in recovery, and to learn about making healthy lifestyle choices (nutrition, exercise).

Outpatient Treatment
The Outpatient Drug Rehab programs provide flexible treatment hours, typically several nights per week. This gives the individual an opportunity to interact in a real world environment with peers while benefiting from a peer-oriented, structured therapeutic program. Client progress is assessed regularly by clinical staff who help you develop an individualized treatment plan.

Safe, supportive living in our sober living homes is highly recommended during the outpatient treatment process. But it’s not required.

Graduates from Outpatient treatment programs are welcome to attend our free Aftercare groups, which help provide ongoing recovery support.

Helping Families and Friends, Too

Because the support of family and friends is so crucial to the recovery process, many Support Systems Homes programs also offer a family program as part of treatment. It's important for family members and loved ones to begin their own healing process. Our treatment center-based family programs can help with this, as can community-based programs such as Nar-Anon.

Maintaining a Lifestyle Free of Mind-Altering Substances

Free Lifetime Aftercare:
Although addiction can be treated, even if an addict has been clean for a long time and has regained health, he or she must actively maintain a clean and sober lifestyle. Otherwise, you risk backsliding into addiction once more.

With this in mind, Support Systems Homes offers aftercare to treatment program graduates. Aftercare is generally a regular, facilitated group that helps guide our clients in maintaining long-term recovery.

Community-Based Self-Help Groups:
Groups such as Pills Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, along with non-12 step based programs, are designed to help addicts attain long-term abstinence. They provide new tools and support networks to deal with addiction and cravings.

Call Support Systems Homes for Inhalant Treatment

Freedom from inhalant addiction is possible. Support Systems Homes' rehab centers provide a variety of treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Call us at (800) 811-1800 to discuss treatment options.

Further Resources and Information

Narcotics Anonymous
Get information on addiction and local 12-Step meetings

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI)
Information specialists are available to help you locate information and resources.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
(Information, educational materials, treatment facility locator, and statistics regarding addiction)


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