Patterns of Inhalant Abuse

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  • 00:00 Patterns
  • 00:58 Experimental Use
  • 1:47 Abuse and Tolerance
  • 3:15 Dependence and Withdrawal
  • 4:07 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.

Behavior patterns are present in all parts of our life, so it comes as no surprise that inhalant use involves patterns of behavior as well. These patterns include experimental use, inhalant abuse, tolerance, overdose, dependence, and withdrawal.


Your dog runs to the door to greet you each time you come home. Your sister screams every time she sees a bee. You brush your teeth every night before you go to bed. These are all simple examples of a pattern of behavior. A behavior pattern is a recurrent way of acting toward a particular object or situation.

You may notice destructive patterns of behavior associated with the improper use of common household items. Sometimes common household items, such as nail polish or spray paint, are used for unintended purposes. Some people use these items to get high. This is referred to as inhalant abuse.

Inhalants are vapors from toxic substances that are inhaled in order to become intoxicated. This lesson will discuss different behavior patterns that result from the abuse of inhalants. This includes experimental use, inhalant abuse, tolerance, overdose, dependence, and withdrawal.

Experimental Use

The first pattern of inhalant use we will discuss is experimental use. This involves trying out a substance to see what effect it has. A person may experiment with an inhalant because they are curious or because they feel pressured to do so.

Inhaling the fumes given off by chemical substances is a common example of experimental drug use among youth because inhalants are cheap and easy to obtain. This is a very dangerous trend because trying an inhalant just one time can lead to death.

Sudden sniffing death occurs when a person uses an inhalant, goes into cardiac arrest, and dies. Their heart begins to beat quickly and irregularly, and then suddenly stops. A large dose of the chemical is not required, and it can occur the first time a person uses an inhalant.

Abuse and Tolerance

The next pattern we will look at is inhalant abuse. Inhalant abuse occurs when inhalant use is repeated and begins to cause problems in a person's life. A pattern of inhalant abuse should be suspected if there are changes that could indicate a person is abusing inhalants. Some of these changes may include noticing a smell of chemicals on a person, finding empty chemical containers or rags soaked in chemicals lying around, noticing unusual stains on clothing, or unusual physical or mental changes in a person.

Repeated abuse can lead to tolerance. Tolerance occurs when a person needs to use more inhalant for longer periods of time to get the same effects that used to occur from inhaling less. Tolerance can increase gradually over time.

Inhalant abuse and tolerance are a dangerous combination. Repeated breathing of large amounts of the chemicals in inhalants can cause damage to the body that cannot be repaired even if the person stops using the inhalants. This damage can even lead to death.

Inhalant abuse and increased tolerance can also lead to an overdose. An overdose occurs when too much of a chemical enters the body too quickly. Most inhalants act to depress the central nervous system. An overdose can affect your heart rate, body temperature, breathing, and gag reflex. This can lead to a coma or death. If someone passes out after using an inhalant, medical attention should be sought.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Inhalant abuse becomes more severe if a person develops a physical need, or dependence, on inhalant use. Reports of how likely a person is to become dependent on inhalant use vary widely. It may depend on the type of inhalant being used or an individual predisposition to dependence. Regardless, dependence can happen. When it does, it becomes much more difficult for the person to stop using inhalants.

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