Inhalant Use Disorder: Meaning, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

“The use of inhalants is a big concern since these products are legal and can result in irreparable brain damage or death.” – Charles Curie

Inhalant Use Disorder is a growing addiction that is quite common as they are easily accessible. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–V) defines this disorder as a “problematic pattern of use of hydrocarbon-based inhalant substance leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” What is this disorder?

Inhalant dependence/Abuse is a habit that is inculcated when people choose to intentionally inhale fumes of substances to experience intoxication as the inhalant produces a mind-altering effect. By and large, a majority of people who are inhalant dependent are children and adolescents. Studies and research on this subject are quite scant, despite the morbid increase in the mortality rate.

Inhalants are found in everyday products which include paint thinners, typewriter correction fluids, gasoline, adhesives, paint removers, dry-cleaning fluids, glues, varnishes, dry cleaning agents, deodorants, hair sprays, etc. They are conveniently bought, absolutely inexpensive, and easy to hide, and most importantly they are LEGAL. Commonly used slang words for inhalants by their abusers are popper, snapper, glue, kick, bang, whippets, sniff, etc.

When an individual inhales such chemicals, they are absorbed through their lungs into their blood and impact their brain and other organs which then allows the user to experience elation which quite short-lived. It is believed that, in India, about 20% of children in schools have experimented with inhaled substances. In America, about 11% of high school students achieve a “high” by using inhalants. The consequences of being an inhalant user are severe and continued usage may result in sudden sniffing death syndrome, cardiac system damage, asphyxia, renal malfunctions, neurological or hepatic damage, etc. 

Types of Abusing Inhalants

Inhalants are inhaled through either the nose or mouth in a couple of ways. Spraying aerosols into the mouth or nose or by “sniffing” or “snorting” fumes from containers. “Bagging” involves inhaling fumes from substances that are sprayed into a plastic or paper bag to concentrate the inhalant that is being breathed in. “Huffing,” another rather interesting way in which the user stuffs an inhalant soaked rag into their mouth. Finally, inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide; one should be cautious to instruct children who are young to not inhale such gases. Children are always at a greater risk of becoming addicted to inhalants. Also as mentioned earlier, since the duration of the “high” is short, abusers try to prolong their feeling of intoxication by repeatedly inhaling continuously for several hours. 


Symptoms of Inhalant Abuse

It is hard to tell if someone has Inhalant use disorder because symptoms of this disorder are typical problems of adolescent struggles to accept hormonal and physical changes that they undergo during puberty. If this disorder persists, it may interfere and hinder them from living normally. Inhalant use disorder may either stem from pathological thought processes or they may lead to psychological illnesses. Hence, it becomes imperative for care-givers or parents to be more watchful.

Some of the symptoms include sudden changes in the behavior of the individual where they fail to perform important tasks at home, school or at work. Their clothes may reek of chemical odor. People tend to become anti-social and lack interest in almost everything in life. Personal cleanliness and grooming habits begin to reduce. There could also be a possible diminution in appetite and weight loss. Some of them experience irritation around the mouth or nose or may even suffer from ulcers. All this may eventually lead to more confusion, depression, and tolerance to inhalants causing them part-take in the ordeal of taking in inhalants. They begin to have a hard time withdrawing from using it, further leading them to use it longer than they anticipated.


 Causes for Inhalant Abuse 

Most people who seek this form of ecstasy are those who are trying to escape reality, which is what most drugs offer. According to research, about 70% of inhalant abusers have a lifetime prevalence of comorbid psychological disorders, including mood, anxiety, and personality disorders. People with suicidal tendencies, criminal history, depression, sexual abuse, familial conflict, history of drug abuse, or even people with lower income, less educated and poor individuals tend to indulge in such odious acts of exploitation not knowing it’s life-threatening repercussions; rather it is the thrill they seek and too soon they fail to see the inevitable that leads them to their fatal end.


Treatment for Inhalant Abusers 

The idiom, ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ is quite apt for inhalants as they are commonly found in everyday things that we use. It is crucial to diagnose and treat accordingly before it becomes cancerous and destroys the individual abusing inhalants. Positive reinforcements in the form of therapy, counseling, support groups can help overcome the need to abuse inhalants.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals to gauge their situations better and enable them to handle stressful situations better. It also helps them cope with cravings. This technique is employed by most psychiatrists and psychologists while counseling sessions and in family therapy sessions.

Teenagers are who are severely affected by their inhalant abuse addiction are treated in a residential treatment program. Engagements programs like dancing, painting, hiking gives them a sense of purpose by allowing them to learn new skills and also socialize with non-users. This may further help in building better relationships and improve communication skills and build a strong support system on which they can depend on.

Positive and conducive environment will have a positive impact on the people suffering from inhalant dependence. It will, in time, lead them to breathe anew and learn to deal with their issues in the most appropriate manner. After overcoming, individuals must engage in aftercare programs that will keep them from relapsing.

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