Effects & Dangers of Inhalant Use

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  • 0:01 What Are Inhalants?
  • 1:00 Short-Term Effects
  • 2:04 Long-Term Effects
  • 3:03 How Inhalants Kill
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

A quick high is not the only result of inhalant use. Abusing inhalants has both short-term and long-term effects. These effects can even damage the body permanently or result in death.

What Are Inhalants?

The first thing that pops into your mind when you hear someone mention drug abuse is probably not common everyday items found in a cleaning cabinet or garage. Unfortunately, these items are easy to obtain and can be inappropriately used to produce a state of intoxication.

Inhalants are vapors from toxic substances, which are inhaled in order to become intoxicated. Many common substances found in the home can produce these chemical vapors. Inhalant abuse involves breathing in these vapors in concentrated amounts by sniffing them directly from a container, inhaling through rags soaked in the chemicals, or inhaling captured fumes from a balloon or paper bag.

The high that results from inhalant abuse only lasts a few minutes, so many people will inhale these chemicals for long periods of time to maintain the feeling of intoxication. This increases the amount of dangerous chemicals entering and causing damage to the body.

Short-Term Effects

Short-term effects of inhalant abuse involve the temporary reaction of a person's body to the chemicals that are being inhaled. These effects will go away once the chemical leaves the body.

Most abused inhalants act to suppress the activity of the central nervous system, or the brain and spinal cord. The outward effects of this are similar to alcohol intoxication. You may notice slurred speech or lack of coordination. The greater the amount of chemical a person inhales, the less control they have over their actions. After abusing an inhalant, a person may be sleepy and have a lingering headache.

Chemicals found in different types of inhaled products may produce a variety of other short-term effects, such as nausea or vomiting, as well as an increased heart rate, hallucinations, or the person may experience a loss of consciousness.

Nitrates are a different class of inhalants that react differently in the body. Nitrites dilate and relax the blood vessels.

Long-Term Effects

Unfortunately, not all of the effects of inhalant abuse are temporary. There are many, more serious long-term consequences to inhalant abuse.

Inhalants typically contain more than one chemical. The chemical that produces a high may leave the body quickly, but other chemicals do not. These chemicals are absorbed by the fatty tissues in the brain and central nervous system, causing serious problems over time.

The long-term effects of inhalant abuse can include:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Damage to bone marrow
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Nerve damage, resulting in loss of control of movement
  • Mental illness
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Heart damage

The long-term effects of inhalant abuse are not reversible. The resulting damage cannot be repaired, even if the person stops abusing inhalants.

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