Alcohol is often used with other substances, such as prescription medications and illegal drugs. However, these can be quite expensive. People looking for an ‘immediate’ high – without the steep price – usually count on inhalants. These cheaper, easily accessible products produce harmful effects on the body. With alcohol, the effects can be worse.
What is Inhalant Abuse?
This involves the intentional inhalation of volatile substances to achieve intoxication or a certain ‘high.’ This act is known by many names, including volatile substance abuse, solvent abuse, bagging, huffing, and sniffing.
Inhalant use is one of the most prevalent health problems in the United States. This is often attributed to the fact that inhalants are inexpensive and can be purchased mostly anywhere. According to a study, approximately 22 million Americans aged 12 and up have used inhalants.
Inhalants may be abused through direct inhalation or doing so with the use of a rag, bag, or container. The most commonly used substances include:
- Paint and paint thinner
- Aerosol spray
- Chrome-based paint
- Lighter gas (butane)
- Shoe polish
- Cleaning fluid
- Correction fluid
- Felt-tip pens
Inhalant intoxication occurs almost immediately. The effects wear off quickly as well. As such, most users inhale these volatile substances repeatedly to maintain that ‘high.’
Factors that Affect Inhalant Intoxication
Inhalants affect users quite differently. The ‘high’ it brings may depend on the following factors:
- Person’s weight, size, and general health
- Tolerance, whether or not the abuser has been inhaling substances for quite sometime
- Amount taken
- Strength of the inhalant
- Amount of fresh breath that was inhaled during sniffing
- Physical activities done before or after sniffing
With that being said, these factors or conditions make inhalant use more dangerous, if not fatal:
- Inhaling substances indoors or in an enclosed or non-ventilated area
- Using inhalants with drugs, medications, or substances such as alcohol
- Presence of other health problems
- Performing strenuous physical activities after use (can lead to heart problems and sudden death)
Effects of Inhalant Use
As with most illegal substances, inhalant use can have a profound effect on the body. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, short-term inhalant abuse can bring about the following problems:
- Brain damage
- Asphyxiation (sniffing through a plastic bag)
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Sudden death
As with alcohol abuse, long-term inhalant use has more severe effects on the body. They include:
- Tolerance and dependence
- Memory loss, limited attention span, inability to think clearly, irritability, depression
- Excessive thirst, loss of hearing and smell
- Chest pain, angina
- Blood problems
- Indigestion, stomach ulcers
- Liver and kidney problems
- Tiredness, Tremors
- Weight loss, reduced height
- Pimples around the mouth, pale complexion
It is important to note that some of these long-term effects can be reversed. However, certain products bring about permanent damaging effects on the body. They include petrol, cleaning products, correction fluid, and aerosol sprays.
Overdose can occur if a person uses a strong inhalant, or if he/she continues to use it for several times. Too much inhalant use can lead to the following symptoms:
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain
Should any of these occur, it is best to call for medical help right away.
Alcohol and Inhalant Abuse
As mentioned, taking other substances such as alcohol can influence the inhalant’s effect on the body. To wit, both are depressants, which means these substances can slow brain activity. As such, taking them together can lead to stronger effects, compared to using them separately (which is still not advisable).
Inhalants affect the body in a few seconds, while alcohol’s effects kick in after about 30 minutes. As such, alcohol can intensify the volatile substance’s toxic effects on the body.
For one, this can lead to impaired judgment and poor decision making. With that being said, joint use may lead to wrong decisions. This could culminate as car crashes and unprotected sex, to name a few.
Given the many effects of inhalants on the body, alcohol may end up damaging these systems too. Concurrent use can take a toll on major organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys.
To make matters worse, alcohol and inhalant use can increase the likelihood of brain damage. Both can slow respiration, a problem that if left unmanaged, can lead to death.
Apart from the many physical effects, alcohol and inhalant abuse can affect a person’s social activity as well. These substances can change behavior, making the user more indifferent, if not aggressive. These effects can lead to problems at home, work, and the community.
Treatment for Alcohol and Inhalant Addiction
These two addictions, if untreated, can lead to severe health problems – even death. As such, the abuser needs to be managed for both conditions.
First, they need to have their physical symptoms addressed. After all, inhalant use comes with bad withdrawal symptoms as well. After 2 to 5 days of last use, a person can suffer from a hangover, headaches, hallucinations, and visual disorders. He/she may also experience tiredness, tremors, and shakiness. Other withdrawal manifestations include cramps, nausea, and stomach pain.
According to Baydala, there is no standard treatment for inhalant withdrawal. Although this is the case, the healthcare provider can provide supportive and vigilant care. Cardio-pulmonary status and mental condition will be monitored regularly. Skin and clothing may be decontaminated as needed. Anti-arrhythmics or beta-blockers may be prescribed for heart problems.
With the many interventions needed, an alcoholic and inhalant abuser needs a longer time to detox. Baydala recommends several treatment interventions right after. These should include, among many others, a peer-patient advocate system and skill development. Family therapy may also be warranted, since most users come from dysfunctional clans. Completing these interventions can help create a seamless ‘re-entry’ back into the community.
Inhalant use is a prevalent problem that affects about 22 million Americans. Inhalant abuse can affect one’s health, whether use is short-term or long-term. As a result, concurrent use of alcohol and inhalants can lead to worse manifestations. These can progress to breathing problems and eventual death. As a result, it is important to have the patient treated for both conditions. This can help him/her live a normal, healthy life after rehab.
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