According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)*, Inhalant Use Disorder is diagnosed when people use inhalants (aerosols, gases, nitrites and solvents) for a psychoactive effect. (The chemicals that are misused as inhalants are contained in a variety of household products.) People inhale the chemicals from a variety of sources to get the feeling of euphoria and relaxation.

Inhalants are anything that is able to be inhaled without being burned or heated. Many people “sniff” the vapors from glue to feel relaxed. They may inhale amyl nitrite, which is used to relieve the pain of angina attacks. (The blood vessels relax, and the blood and oxygen that flow to the heart is increased.) Nitrous oxide is also known as “laughing gas” and is typically used by dentists as a painkiller. When it is used in high concentrations, the person may feel intensely happy, confident and have hallucinations.

*The DSM-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Statistics About Inhalant Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that more than 20 million people in the nation age 12 and over used inhalants in their lifetimes. These statistics are disturbing, since just a single use can prove to be fatal. Inhalant abuse is more typical in teenagers than in any other age group.

According to NIDA, in the U.S. more than 13 percent of adults between 18 and 25 years of age used inhalants. Nearly 10 percent of adults over 25 years old used inhalants a single time in their lives.

What are the Physical Risks of Inhalant Use/Abuse?

There are many risks with in using inhalants. Inhalants can have an impact on many of the body’s organs. The following are some of the risks.

  • Brain damage is the most common effect of abusing inhalants. The drugs are able to get through the shielding on the outside of the brain and affect the individual very rapidly.
  • When people spray inhalants in their mouths, the aerosol must change from a liquid into a gas. Heat is needed to do so, and the heat is gleaned from the mouth. When this happens, it can cause frozen trachea, which is an excruciatingly painful way to die.
  • By replacing the oxygen in the lungs, the gases used in inhalants can cause a person to suffocate. Damage is done to the lungs, preventing them from being able to absorb oxygen.
  • The chemicals used in gas can inflame the stomach and the intestines and cause ulcers.
  • Inhalants can disturb the red blood cells, causing less of them to be produced. This can cause anemia.
  • Chronic abuse of inhalants can affect the liver, causing it to collect fat and harden. It can cause liver failure.
  • Inhalant use that is chronic may cause cancer of the liver.
  • Since inhalants prevent enough oxygen to get to the blood, there is the possibility of death.
  • Lack of sensation.
  • Serious nose bleeds.

What are the Risks of Inhalant Abuse on Mental Health?

Inhalant Use Disorder can affect an individual in an assortment of ways, including losing a sense of control, frenzied excitement and destructive behavior. These results can occur almost instantaneously after using an inhalant. Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, extreme despair and paranoia are some of the effects inhalants can have on the abuser. In addition, nitrous oxide can lead to memory loss.

While some people who stop using the inhalant are able get back to their normal state of mind, others live with these changes permanently.

People who abuse inhalants may get to the point where they don’t take care of themselves. Some lack hygiene. Others experience a loss of appetite, which causes weight to plummet.

If a pregnant woman abuses inhalants, she is putting the health of her child at great risk. The infant may be smaller, underweight or born with defects. In addition, the inhalant abuse can cause a miscarriage.

What are the Signs of Inhalant Use Disorder?

  • Speech is mumbled or slurred.
  • Reactions are uncontrolled.
  • The person experiences a “high.”
  • Absence of motor skill control.
  • Drunk-like appearance.
  • Vomiting and stomach upset.
  • Emotionally and physically calm.
  • Hallucinating.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Rash.
  • Pupils are dilated.
  • Person has a chemical smell like paint.
  • Blemishes or imprints around the nose and mouth.

Is There Treatment for Inhalant Use Disorder?

Before the individual is able to find therapy, he needs to be helped in maintaining stability from the inhalant abuse.

A therapist will work with the person to help him identify the reasons he used inhalants. The therapist will educate him on the many dangers of chronic inhalant use. There may be other disorders that accompany the inhalant use, and those should also be identified and treated.

Some individuals do well with group therapy, where they can talk about the disorder with others who are experiencing the same difficulties. They may be able to share strategies that work for them.
Family therapy is helpful, because inhalant abuse has most likely affected the individual’s loved ones. The family members can be educated about the disorder and ways they can assist the individual in dealing with stressful situations and other factors that cause the inhalant use.

Some individuals find that a 12-Step Program is valuable. They may have the opportunity to listen to others with the same problems. The person, if he feels comfortable, may want to share the reasons he began using inhalants, the ways he copes without using them and the feelings he is currently undergoing. The group is a network of support and is considered anonymous, which may provide a sense of comfort and security.