Volatile Nitrites, Nitrous Oxide & Solvents: Raising Awareness About Inhalants

raising awareness about inhalants

National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week is March 22-28. Unlike equally dangerous illegal drugs, inhalants are substances that are typically found in most households. Understanding the facts about inhalants is important for the person addicted to them as well as for their friends and family. Raising awareness about inhalants, including volatile nitrites, nitrous oxide, and solvents, can help save a life.

What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are found in many common household products. They contain volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that, when inhaled, can induce a mind-altering effect. The term inhalant is used to describe substances that are rarely taken by any other route, such as in liquid or pill form. There are four basic categories of inhalants, including volatile solvents, aerosols, nitrites, and gases, which describe the forms in which they are most often found in household, medical, and industrial products.

When a Household Product Becomes an Inhalant

An individual who abuses inhalants may take advantage of any available product. However, some users will go out of their way to get hold of their favorite inhalant. Household products that contain commonly abused inhalants in the four general categories include:

Volatile solvents – liquids that become gas at room temperature. These are typically found in nail polish remover, paint thinner, gasoline, contact cement, and some art or office supplies such as correction fluid, glue, and felt-tip marker fluid.

Aerosols – substances under pressure that are released as a fine spray. These include hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and spray paint.

Gases – found in household, commercial, and medical products. These inhalants include refrigerant gases, butane lighters, propane tanks, and anesthesia such as nitrous oxide, ether, and chloroform.

Nitrites – sold in small brown bottles, these inhalants include organic nitrites such as amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites; amyl nitrite, sometimes used to diagnose heart problems; and nitrites that are now banned but are still found in small bottles labeled “video head cleaner” or “liquid aroma.”

How Do Inhalants Work?

When these chemicals are inhaled, they are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream through the lungs and then distributed to the brain and other organs throughout the body. Within just a few seconds, the person who has inhaled the substance will experience intoxication and other effects similar to those produced by alcohol. They might experience an inability to coordinate their movements, slurred speech, a sense of euphoria, and dizziness, as well as lightheadedness, delusions, and hallucinations.

The intoxication from inhalants only lasts a few minutes, so the individual will typically seek to prolong the high by inhaling repeatedly over just a few hours’ time, a practice that is very dangerous. With each successive inhalation, the individual’s chances increase of suffering a loss of consciousness and even death.

Inhaling can be done through a variety of methods, including inhaling the vapors directly from open containers or from rags that have been soaked in the chemical substance. A method known as bagging involves inhaling substances sprayed or deposited inside a paper or plastic bag. The individual may also inhale from balloons filled with nitrous oxide or from devices known as snappers and poppers in which inhalants are sold.

Side Effects and Risks

The risks of inhaling nitrites, nitrous oxide, solvents, and other chemical substances can be devastating. A recent study that included over 35,000 inhalant abuse cases found that most abusers were in their teens, although the ages ranged from 6 to over 50. Boys accounted for almost three-fourths of the cases. Most of the patients in the study were being treated in an emergency room. Out of the study participants, 208 died and more than 1,000 experienced life-threatening or permanent disabling illnesses.

Side effects associated with inhalants include strong hallucinations and delusions, dizziness, impaired judgment, belligerence, and apathy. Those who abuse inhalants over the long term experience muscle weakness, lack of coordination, irritability, weight loss, inattentiveness, and depression. In addition, chronic use of inhalants can cause serious and often irreversible damage to the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain.

Early Identification and Intervention

Severe risks, including death, can occur with just one incident of inhaling these chemical substances. It is critical to identify the behavior and get help for the addiction as soon as possible, before it causes serious health issues. An awareness about inhalants includes knowing the following signs that could mean a friend or loved one is abusing a chemical substance:

  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Slurred speech
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance
  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.

Addiction and Mental Health Support for Men

At PACE Recovery, we optimize your recovery success with integrated treatment that will address both your addiction to drugs or alcohol, including an addiction to inhaling chemical substances, and mental health issues. We address your whole person, including your spiritual, medical, psychosocial, and relational facets.

The professionals at PACE understand the challenges you are facing during this period of isolation and uncertainty. We’re here to help. Our men’s-only programming has transformed hundreds of lives over the years, and we believe that you can recover. To learn more about our mental health and addiction services, contact our Admissions team.