Can You Get Addicted to Nitrous Oxide?

Addiction and substance abuse are not uncommon throughout history, but as science and modern medicine have progressed, there have been more substances created that can also potentially be abused. Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” is one of those substances. The chemical has been used in hospitals and by medical professionals for generations. Still, the euphoria often experienced when this is used can potentially lead to nitrous oxide addiction or other medical issues. 

Nitrous oxide addiction can have severe side effects, so medical professionals administer this gas with great care. However, due to its multiple uses, it can’t be regulated like alcohol or other substances that are prone to abuse. The regulation difficulties and the inaccurate perception of the abuse of this drug are less severe than other substances lead to difficulty treating individuals. 

Unfortunately, this substance is one of the many that are abused, but Addiction Intervention has the tools and knowledge to help individuals find the help needed. 

Nitrous Oxide

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide, which has been around for centuries, is a colorless gas that is used for pain relief and sedation. Although this substance has a specific medical use, individuals who have a nitrous oxide addiction are attracted to it because of the high and intoxicated feeling that results from its usage. Today, nitrous oxide is most famously used throughout the dentist industry, but other medical professionals also use the gas. 

Some other names for nitrous oxide are:

  • Nitro
  • N2O
  • NOS
  • Nangs
  • Whippet(s)
  • Hippy crack
  • Buzz bomb
  • Balloons

Standard Nitrous Oxide Uses

Nitrous Oxide is typically used for pain relief and to sedate patients before they undergo some sort of procedure. This gas can help with anxiety for individuals feeling nervous, but nitrous oxide has non-medical uses as well. The colorless gas can be used as a food additive for dispensing whipped cream and is even used in the automotive industry to increase an engine’s performance. 

When you see a scene in a racing movie with the driver pressing a red button and the engine uses a gas to go faster, that’s nitrous oxide. Also known as NOS. This gas is officially considered a “dissociative anesthetic” and has been known to cause a dissociation between an individual’s mind and body. This could result in the sense of floating and, in less common cases, even visual hallucinations.

The Practical Neurology journal reported that nitrous oxide is a drug that has been abused since it was first created in 1772, primarily by medical professionals that had access to it. These individuals would be dentists and doctors that needed it for their patients, but as time has progressed, the usage of nitrous oxide has become more common. Unfortunately, so has the abuse of nitrous oxide. 

How is Nitrous Oxide Used and Abused?

Like mentioned before, nitrous oxide is a colorless gas. The gas is inhaled, usually through a cartridge (for example, a whippet, bulb, or balloon) that releases it into an individual’s mouth. After someone inhales nitrous oxide, they will experience a feeling of euphoria, excitement, and even floating from the rush of gas. 

This feeling will last for a short amount of time before the effects fade and the potential symptoms of withdrawal or addiction set in. Nitrous oxide is a substance that is most commonly abused among younger demographics, typically in their teens. This substance is sometimes easier to obtain because of the everyday uses of nitrous oxide and has become a common party drug. 

Individuals with a nitrous oxide addiction endanger themselves because they will need more of the substance to feel the euphoric effects. According to a piece written in the Brain Research Bulletin in 1994, a study was done on rats that had been exposed to nitrous oxide, and over time the rats displayed a tolerance to the drug. The rats would need more significant amounts of the gas to feel the euphoric effects. The same is for humans, and when the euphoric effects wear off, the focus becomes on withdrawal and the symptoms of addiction. 

Nitrous Oxide Addiction

People with a severe nitrous oxide addiction will struggle more and more to manage their symptoms and addiction. Nitrous oxide can affect an individual to the point where their body may react violently and start convulsing if they do not get the dosage that has become expected. Inhalant drugs (for example, aerosols, solvents, and other gasses) have been known to be more problematic for individuals looking to recover from substance abuse. Inhalant withdrawal is often comparable to the intensity of asking an individual addicted to alcohol to stop drinking.

Is Nitrous Oxide Addictive?

Short answer: yes. 

Nitrous oxide can be incredibly addictive, similar to most substances that are abused today. However, a big problem with trying to help an individual who is addicted to nitrous oxide is getting help in the first place, then preventing relapse. Nitrous oxide has the reputation of being a more lighthearted substance to abuse than heroin or cocaine. Although heroin is slightly more dangerous than nitrous oxide, the side effects of abusing nitrous oxide are not to be taken lightly. 

Like mentioned before, individuals who become accustomed to abusing nitrous oxide will need larger and larger doses to feel the drug’s effects. This could result in potential brain damage, coma, and even death. This drug’s effects can vary depending on an individual’s weight, dosage taken, tolerance, and if the nitrous oxide is mixing with any other substances. Here are some of the different side effects of abusing and being addicted to nitrous oxide:

Short-term Effects of Nitrous Oxide

  • Euphoria 
  • Sedation 
  • Numbness 
  • Laughter 
  • Confusion 
  • Disoriented vision 
  • Dizziness 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Potentially cause coma or death 

Long-term Effects of Nitrous Oxide

  • Psychosis 
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency (low B12 levels in individuals can lead to nerve and brain damage)
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Depression 
  • Weak immune system 
  • Issues with reproductive systems 
  • Potential to cause birth defects 
  • Numbness in hands and or feet 
  • Loss of memory
  • Addiction 

Effects of Taking Large Amounts of Nitrous Oxide 

  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Heart attack 
  • Fainting 

How is Nitrous Oxide Addiction Treated?

Treating individuals who are recovering from nitrous oxide addiction will overlap with some basic principles of substance abuse treatment. Still, there are also some characteristics to recovering from this addiction that may be unexpected. Like all addictions, individuals are not “cured” once they progress and finish a treatment program. People who are looking to recover will need a supportive and healthy environment to prevent relapse in the future. Relapse is a problem with individuals fighting substance abuse, but especially for individuals fighting nitrous oxide addiction.

Treating nitrous oxide addiction is rather complex. This is because this drug can have severe consequences on an individual’s vitamin B12 levels. Like mentioned before, vitamin B12 is incredibly important, and if there is a deficiency in a person’s B12, then nerve and even brain damage can occur. Treating this addiction is a different challenge than treating a more publicized addiction, like alcoholism or an addiction to heroin, because the perception of this drug is less serious. Because of this perception, individuals are less likely to realize they have a problem and seek the help needed. 

Statistically speaking, individuals who choose to use inhalants for recreational drugs are usually more socially troubled. This social dysfunction can play a role in individuals avoiding the help and treatments that they need. A serious concern within the medical community is that there are not enough programs that focus on the demographic of substance abusers who use inhalants. Luckily there is a wide range of treatment options that have proven to bring results. 

Nitrous Oxide Addiction Treatment

Due to the social problems that most nitrous oxide abusers are accustomed to, different forms of therapy can be an amazing help in the recovery process. Obviously, a rehab program would safely guide an individual through a detox process, but the treatment afterward could vary depending on the individual.

Although treatment may vary, group and family therapy will most likely bring the best results. Some relief and results may come from the treatment and therapies. It’s essential to have a supportive environment or group to lean on to avoid relapse. Because, unlike most substances that are abused, nitrous oxide is regulated differently. 

Addiction Intervention and Finding the Help Needed

Nitrous oxide is sometimes referred to as laughing gas, but there is nothing funny about getting addicted to it. Although this amazingly useful gas has been around since the 1700s, addiction and substance abuse have been around longer. This drug has a light reputation and should be taken more seriously because it can result in severe and even deadly consequences. 

Unfortunately, the regulation of this gas is rather complex. However, there is still plenty of hope for individuals looking to find the proper treatment and get started on recovering. Even if you’re simply a loved one looking for information, Addiction Intervention has plenty of knowledge and networks to help. Be sure to call us and get started on living a healthy life today. 

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