What are the Health Risks of Inhalants?

Inhalants are a class of drugs abused by inhaling as the sole route of administration. Solvents, aerosol sprays, gases, and nitrites may contain certain substances capable of producing psychoactive effects when inhaled. Inhalants generally have brief short-term effects, but produce long-lasting damage to the brain.
Inhalants cause large amounts of toxic chemicals to enter into the brain, causing brain cells to quickly die. Acute intoxication from inhalant abuse can cause slurred speech, lack of coordination, feelings of euphoria, and dizziness. Inhalants are unpredictable; the same amount can seem fine one time but cause immediate overdose another time. Death from inhalants can result from asphyxiation, suffocation, seizures, coma, choking, or cardiac arrest. The potential for long-term health complications is quite extreme. According to the National Institutes of Health, “The neurotoxic effects of prolonged inhalant abuse include neurological syndromes that reflect damage to parts of the brain involved in controlling cognition, movement, vision, and hearing. Cognitive abnormalities can range from mild impairment to severe dementia.” Inhalants can also cause damage to the liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and nerves. These long-term effects are specific to how much and what type of inhalant is being abused— some damage may be reversible, but many health complications cause by chronic inhalant abuse are permanent. Inhalants are also addictive, which can cause a user to continue causing body and brain damage without proper intervention. The University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research points out, “Sustained inhalant use can cause tolerance; in addition, withdrawal symptoms develop after use is stopped. These symptoms can include sweating, rapid pulse, hand tremors, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, physical agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, and seizures.” The easy access to inhalants makes them a highly abusable drug. A survey by The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that nearly 21.7 million Americans over the age of 12 have used inhalants at least one, and 13.1 percent of 8th-graders have used inhalants. Without treatment or medical intervention, the possibility of overdose, death, or serious health-complications later in life is very likely.

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