Inhalant use creates a cycle similar to that of alcoholism with immediate intoxication, dizziness, incoordination, slurred speech, euphoria, lethargy, slowed reflexes, slowed thinking and movement, tremors, blurred vision, stupor or coma, generalized muscle weakness, and involuntary eye movement (APA, 2000). Certain inhalants may result in chemical and thermal burns (difluoroethane/dusters), withdrawal symptoms, persistent mental illness, and catastrophic medical emergencies such as ventricular arrhythmias leading to Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD). Inhalant intoxication also leads to fatal auto collisions caused by blackouts and loss of coordination. Cognitive effects include significant learning and memory impairment, decreased processing speed, loss of attention, and judgement deficits. Even a single inhalant intoxication can create these neurological and cognitive effects (Avella, Wilson, and Lehrer, 2006; Bowen, Daniel, and Balster,1999).
The brain is severely damaged by inhalant use. Studies have concluded that recurrent inhalant use leads to neurological disorders, including, Parkinsonism, impaired cognition due to the degradation or loss of brain cells, and loss of muscle strength and coordination due to damage to the cerebellum. Thinning of nerve fibers and lesions of the white mater that facilitates communication between brain cells is noted. The majority of this brain damage is long-term. Inhalants such as Toluene (glues and paint remover) and 1,1-thrichloroethane/1,1-Difluoroethane (computer keyboard cleaner) impair learning, memory and attention (Finch and Lobo, 2005; Gautshi, Cadosch, and Zellweger, 2007).
The use of inhalants can cause severe medical problems that affect numerous organs. It has been found that inhalant use damages the liver, heart, kidneys (toxicity), bone demineralization; bone marrow suppression; and reduced immunity (T-cell responsivity) and vision impairment (optic nerve damage) (Karmakar and Roxburgh, 2008; Takaki et al., 2008). Much of this damage is irreversible. Additionally, chronic inhalant users experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. Many inhalants have been determined to be “reinforcers” which cause the user to continually self-administer. In the case of propellants, they are inhaled, then create a short-lived euphoria which is quickly lost when the chemical leaves the body. It is this short-term “high” that the user continues to desire and recreate by continued inhaling. Many users will go through up to 10-12 cans of an inhalant per day. Since most aerosol inhalants are extremely accessible in stores and relatively inexpensive, this addiction is prevalent in our society.