There are over 22 million Americans who have abused an inhalant before–and each year nearly a million more try inhalants for the first time. Inhalants are highly toxic and incredibly dangerous psychoactive drugs most often targeted by children for abuse. What makes this drug class so concerning is that many of them are widely available as everyday household items that are both inexpensive, legal, and thus mostly unmonitored. Many of them can result in addiction, withdrawal, overdose, or even death after a single-use. There are estimated to be between 100 and 200 inhalant-caused deaths every year in the United States. Chronic users who survive often face a host of serious brain and bodily health issues that are permanent and debilitating.
What Are Inhalants & How Do They Work?
Side Effects of Using Inhalants
Inhalant intoxication or an inhalant high produces similar effects to that of alcohol or benzo use: euphoria, slurred speech, dizziness, lack of coordination, and cognitive impairment. Continued use can result in severe and irreversible physical, cognitive, and psychological consequences. Depending on the specific substance inhaled or huffed, the pharmacological effects can vary.
Inhalant Abuse Statistics & Trends: Who’s Using Them?
Easy to come by and inexpensive, inhalants are a popular target for abuse by children and adolescents. The majority of users are young and between the ages of 10 and 16. The majority of young users, however, discontinue use fairly quickly. In one study, 58% of those reported using by the end of ninth grade; of those students, less than half reported using again between 9th and 12th grade.
There are both gender and racial divides amongst inhalant users: White and Hispanic students have nearly double the using rates as African Americans; female students had higher rates of use compared to males. However, socioeconomic factors and family dynamics are stronger determinants of whether someone is more likely to use an inhalant or not.
Factors that are strongly associated with inhalant abuse are:
- History of childhood abuse or trauma
- Poor grade
- Dropping out of school
- Unstable family life
- Unemployed parents (or low-income)
- Low level of parental education
- Living in rural or isolated area
- Mental illness
- Antisocial behavior
Inhalant Dependence & Treatment
InInhalant addiction is uncommon–but not impossible. Intake of these chemicals has been shown to interact with dopamine pathways which are tied to the reward system in the brain and are the root of many drug addictions. And since inhalants also have the ability to cause major neurological rewiring, physical dependence and the risk of incurring withdrawal symptoms are a possibility as well.
However, it is much more likely that someone would experience an inhalant overdose before addiction occurs. Currently, there are no approved medications should this happen. The best means to prevent an unnecessary tragedy is to take preventative measures.