Inhalants: Treatment and rehabilitation

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:36 pm

Despite the extent of inhalant abuse and its potential for destroying mental and physical functions, little is known about effective behavior modification or drug-abuse prevention approaches to treating inhalant abusers. Inhalant abusers are often excluded from more general studies on drug abuse.
Relapse and treatment failure rates are high among inhalant abusers. Some professionals believe that programs specific to inhalant abuse, perhaps led by recovering abusers, are critical to improving treatment success. Few such programs exist. Indeed, some general treatment programs exclude inhalant abusers because of the difficulties in successfully treating them. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition helps callers find centers that treat inhalant abuse.
As of 2002, inhalant abusers are mostly treated in the same programs that address addiction to other substances. The programs use the same approaches that are effective with other drug problems. Clinicians start by taking a history of the patient. That includes conducting a physical exam, screening for organ damage, and taking a detailed history of the length, type, and frequency of abuse. Building self-esteem and self-confidence, and strengthening ethnic identity, appear to help inhalant abusers recover, according to studies published in the 1970s.
When the patient is a teenager or younger, the treatment center conducts a family assessment. Treatment counselors attempt to assess parents’ problems with drugs or their general mental health. The goals are to spot problems within the family and begin addressing them. The process includes identifying what is stressing users and teaching them better coping skills; treating any accompanying psychiatric conditions or additional addictions; and encouraging the child to engage in healthy friendships and stay away from peers who abuse inhalants.
Inhalants take a toll on the users’ thinking skills, which can complicate treatment. Some patients need extra neurological and cognitive testing so that treatment can be properly tailored to their needs.
The toxic chemicals in inhalants are stored in fatty tissue in the body for weeks. Thus, when long-term abusers attempt to quit, they may develop withdrawal symptoms several hours to a few days afterward. The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the American Academy of Pediatrics list these common withdrawal symptoms: hand tremors, excessive sweating, constant headache, rapid pulse, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, physical agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, and grand mal seizures.
Much remains unknown about the physiology of withdrawal from various subcategories of inhalants and the best ways to address withdrawal symptoms. In early 2002, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which had not funded a study specifically looking at treatment for inhalant abusers, was actively encouraging researchers to submit proposals in this area.
Long-term treatment, as long as two years, has yielded the best results for inhalant abusers. The aftercare must continue outside the facility and into the community to be effective. Research shows that recovery is helped by factors such as parent groups who patrol inhalant abuse hot spots, and communities that offer structured recreational or other programs for youths to fill the time they previously spent sniffing or huffing.

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