Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Health Concerns of Inhalant Abuse

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that more than 2 million adolescents over the age of 12 in the United States abused inhalant substances in 2009. Most popular among teens and adolescents who do not have regular access to alcohol and other drugs of abuse, the drugs in this class are identified as “inhalants” because kids will use any number of methods to inhale the fumes of common household chemicals and cleaners that cause them to feel disoriented and “high.” These chemicals and their fumes are highly toxic and of huge concern to parents of children who abuse them because all it takes is one use – or one use too many – to cause brain damage or death.

The health concerns of inhalant abuse involve a long list of both acute and long-term issues that can be life-changing or life-ending for teens who may not fully grasp the danger inherent to their use. Parents who see the signs of inhalant abuse in their sons are advised to intervene immediately. Because inhalants are not illegal and their abuse is rarely discussed, many don’t recognize the deadly risks that comes with each and every use, but parents should realize that in some ways, these substances are more deadly than alcohol and marijuana in that all it takes is one time – even the first time – to change your teen’s life forever.

If your son is abusing inhalants with or without abusing other drugs and/or alcohol, it’s an issue that requires immediate intervention. Contact us today at Muir Wood and learn more about our teen-specific substance abuse program for boys and how we can help your family begin to heal.

What Are the Acute Health Issues Related to Inhalant Abuse?

When a child sprays an inhalant into a paper bag and “huffs” the fumes, soaks cotton balls or another cloth with toxic chemicals and inhales, or breathes the fumes released by markers or aerosol cans, he may experience a very brief high that is often described as similar to being drunk. Acute effects include:

  • Giddiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of inhibition

Use of inhalants can result in an anesthetic effect in which the user loses feeling and may even lose consciousness. When the effects start to wear off, the teen may start to feel tired and seem disoriented and unable to focus.

When the Acute Effects Wear Off, Are the Health Concerns Over?

Though the “high” quickly fades, the effects of inhalant abuse can continue for long periods after use. The chemicals are extremely toxic and different chemicals can create different effects, each lasting for different amounts of time in different kids. Some of these toxins can influence the behavior and thought processes of teens for long after they use it, causing:

  • Hostility
  • Indifference
  • Impaired coordination and reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Impaired judgment

Every chemical is different, but parents may be able to recognize differences in behavior long after their child uses an inhalant. The lingering of a “funny” smell on your son’s clothes, hair, and skin as well as marks of paint or other chemicals around their mouth and nose can also be a clue that inhalant abuse is an issue.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse?

When teens abuse inhalants for a long period of time, they can exhibit a number of health issues that are concerning. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these can include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Chronic muscle weakness
  • Inability to focus
  • Chronic agitation and irritability
  • Depression
  • Chronic feelings of disorientation

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Some patients in recovery for inhalant abuse report they have experienced physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance and also crave it when they don’t have it. These are the two criteria for an addiction diagnosis: psychological dependence and physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, impulsive use of inhalants even when prohibited from their use and other negative consequences are threatened is another sign of inhalant addiction.

Is Your Son Abusing Inhalant Substances?

If you believe that you see the signs of inhalant abuse in your child, do not wait to act. Pull out all the stops. A simple anti-drug talk is not appropriate in these cases. If your son has used inhalants once and there is any concern that he may use them again – especially if it is coupled with belligerent behavior, poor academic performance, or extreme changes in attitude – contact us at Muir Wood today and speak with a counselor about how we can help your son to get back on track.