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Paint Thinner Addiction And The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

Paint thinners are part of a larger group of abused substances known as inhalants. This group of drugs includes aerosol sprays, volatile solvents, gases, and nitrites. Each offers an easy avenue for getting a quick high by those who either cannot afford more addictive drugs, or are too young to buy drugs, like alcohol, legally.

How Is Paint Thinner Abused?

Paint thinner contains two primary compounds, toluene and xylene. In addition to paint thinners, these compounds are found in model glues and spray paints. Paint thinners are typically abused in one of two ways. Either through saturating a sock or other cloth with the substance and inhaling or “huffing,” or through a more dangerous process known as “bagging.” Bagging involves breathing in the substance through a bag. This process prevents outside air from getting into the lungs, and can lead to asphyxiation and cardiac arrest, even upon first use of the process.

Paint Thinner And The Brain

Toluene and xylene behave similarly to alcohol on the brain. When a user inhales or “huffs” these compounds, their nervous system releases a flood of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with that euphoric and much sought after high. Toluene is fast-acting and can show up in detectable levels in arterial blood within 10 seconds of exposure, leading to some immediate side effects.

The parts of the brain related to decision-making and motor skills, the frontal cortex, as well as the hippocampus are affected by a person abusing paint thinner. The frontal cortex is depressed, similarly to when someone drinks in excess. The experience differs, however, in that the deprivation of oxygen to the brain during huffing or bagging can begin to affect the hippocampus and lead to memory loss.

Compounds like toluene and xylene remain in the system longer than other compounds, and when abused in succession can result in permanent brain damage and even death.

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Adolescent Addiction To Paint Thinners

People who abuse paint thinners come from all different races and religious backgrounds, but the majority are high school aged or younger and from lower income or broken homes. They are one of the most sought-after drugs for teens and youth.

Kids use paint thinners and other inhalants because often they assume they’re safe. After all, paint thinners can be purchased by anyone and are widely available. They’re also affordable for someone seeking a quick high without the ability to purchase drugs or alcohol.

In surveys of parents of children who acknowledged the use of inhalants, there are huge disparities in parents awareness that substances, like paint thinners, are even used as a drug. As someone who is using paint thinner to achieve a high ages, they typically turn to other drugs like alcohol or marijuana to achieve the same effects. Paint thinners are what are known as “gateway drugs” – or drugs that lead to other more serious addictive behaviors.

Side effects for toluene and xylene include headache, reduced inhibition, and slurring of speech and can lead to more serious side effects including paralysis, coma, and death.

Side Effects Of Paint Thinner Abuse

  • Dizziness
  • Reduced Inhibition
  • Slurring of Speech
  • Impaired Visual Perception
  • Staggering
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney and Liver Damage
  • Heart and Lung Damage
  • Heart Attack
  • Asphyxiation

Signs Of Paint Thinner Abuse

While widely available, paint thinners produce vapors that are dangerous when inhaled. A large number of people who experiment with inhalants die the first time they try it. It is critical parents look for signs and symptoms of paint thinner abuse.

These symptoms individually can look similar to illness, but if you notice your child suffering from watery eyes and nose, a red rash or burn around his or her mouth, noticeable weight loss, or complaints of headache or frequent nausea, paint thinner abuse may be a culprit. In addition, toluene and xylene are aromatic hydrocarbons and exhibit a sweet aromatic quality that may linger with the user.

Paint thinners may be obtained easily, but can be far more dangerous than more addictive substances. The euphoria a user gets from “huffing” or inhaling these compounds is immediate and may last several hours. Repeated abuse of paint thinners is linked to a myriad of psychological and physiological disorders including central nervous system disturbances, problems with memory and cognitive function, difficulty focusing, and result in poor judgments or decision-making.

Paint Thinner Addiction Treatment

Though compounds found in paint thinners are not highly addictive, with repeated use, a person may develop tolerance and become physically addicted. And the withdrawal symptoms can feel overwhelming to someone using the inhalants to get by, perpetuating use. Withdrawal should be monitored and other medications may be given to help alleviate some of the initial withdrawal discomfort.

If you are currently abusing paint thinners, can connect you with the professionals and resources to overcome addiction.

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