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GHB Addiction & Abuse

Tolerance to GHB builds swiftly, potentially causing dependence. If dependence occurs, abstaining from GHB can generate unwanted withdrawal symptoms. While use of GHB triggers euphoria, continued use can have serious health consequences. Most people need help via an addiction treatment program to stop GHB use.

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What Is GHB?

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. In addition to existing in drug form, GHB is also part of the body’s natural system, helping to aid with functions like modulating mood swings, managing food intake, or regulating rest. However, when taken as a drug, it can have powerful euphoric and sedative effects.

 The drug is generally a transparent liquid with no apparent smell, making it possible to surreptitiously add it into someone’s drink without their consent. This is why it gained popularity as a date rape drug. This drug is unfortunately one of several that make it important to monitor your drink in public settings and why you should be hesitant to accept drinks from strangers. 

GHB is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. It should be considered to have a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Who Abuses GHB?

People commonly misuse GHB while seeking an uplifting feeling accompanied by relaxation during parties, such as those that take place in nightclubs or raves. The drug is somewhat notoriously called liquid ecstasy in these circles. Athletes and bodybuilders have been found to misuse GHB with the motive of elevating their performance levels or expediting muscle recovery processes. 

GHB is a hazardous substance that can cause severe harm to one’s health, leading to serious health consequences, such as addiction and even death. Administering GHB without medical supervision should be considered dangerous, with serious potential for short-term and long-term harm. As the desired effects of GHB cannot be attained without elevated doses, the probability of overdose is significant, especially for people without a medical background.

What Are the Causes of GHB Addiction?

GHB can be addictive primarily because of the way it activates the brain’s reward system. Like other addictive substances, GHB can be thought of as “hijacking” the normal reward system of the brain, causing intense euphoria and making the act of abusing GHB feel extremely rewarding. This causes the brain to reinforce the behavior, driving a person to engage in that behavior again and again. 

The drug can also cause physical dependence, described in more detail later. This dependence can trigger potentially intense symptoms if a person tries to stop using the drug after a long enough period of consistent use.

Withdrawal Symptoms From GHB

GHB withdrawal can present a considerable obstacle for individuals attempting to overcome dependence. As a result of changes that repeated GHB use can cause to the brain, attempting to quit use of the drug can result in challenging physical and psychological symptoms. 

Withdrawal symptoms from GHB may include tremors of the limbs or head, anxiety or panic attacks with prolonged sleeplessness episodes, and delusions or visual hallucinations that may impair cognitive function. Some withdrawal symptoms can be severe, with some people even experiencing seizures. 

As a result, you should speak with a medical professional if you intend to try quitting GHB after using it for an extended period. Medical supervision can ensure your safety throughout the withdrawal process. 

Can You Overdose on GHB?

GHB can result in an overdose, which can have serious consequences, ranging from the mild to severe. It can ultimately cause a person’s death in the most serious cases. 

Combining GHB with other types of drug use, especially the use of depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines, further increases a person’s risk of a serious overdose.

Overdose Symptoms & Treatment

Symptoms of a GHB overdose may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, and even coma. 

If you suspect you or someone else may be overdosing on GHB, call 911 immediately. Additionally, alert other people in your area to the issue, especially if you’re the one overdosing, as you won’t be able to treat yourself if your breathing or heart rate slows to a dangerous level.

Remember, time is of the essence in an overdose situation. Don’t hesitate to call emergency services if you suspect that someone is experiencing a GHB overdose. With prompt medical attention, the chances of recovery are greatly increased.

Furthermore, assess if the person’s breathing is regular and a pulse is detectable. If either seems dangerously slow or to have stopped, immediately begin CPR (if trained), continuing until emergency respondents arrive on scene. 

To prevent aggravation of overdose symptoms, it is important to maintain a calm environment and limit the individual’s movement. Immediate action must be taken when emergency responders arrive by accurately conveying information about the person’s health status and level of GHB consumption. 

Minimizing response time is essential when it comes to managing overdose situations. Don’t delay in reaching out for help. 

Treatment Options for GHB Addiction

GHB addiction treatment isn’t well studied, but the standard methods used to treat addiction are generally effective at helping greatly improve a person’s chance of recovery. 

Comprehensive therapeutic intervention through a combination of psychotherapeutic treatments, pharmaceuticals, and clinical guidance is often employed to treat GHB dependency. Among the numerous evidence-based interventions used in treating GHB addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps with identifying and changing harmful attitudes and actions that lead to compulsive substance use.

Some medication-assisted strategies may offer benefits toward easing withdrawal symptoms and supporting long-term sobriety, although no medication has been approved by the FDA for the specific treatment of GHB addiction. Medication-based therapy involving the use of benzodiazepines may be helpful for managing withdrawal symptoms during detoxification, although this should only be done if prescribed by an addiction treatment professional.

For continued support throughout the journey to recovery, support groups (like those offered through 12-step programs) can offer invaluable experiences and connections with people who share the same challenges and are also trying to recover from addiction. 

The successful treatment of GHB addiction hinges on creating an individualized plan that meets the specific requirements of each person. Customized interventions could include continual therapy and group support meetings, as well as consistent consultations with certified addiction experts. The design and implementation of a unique recovery program shaped around an individual’s needs will almost always produce the best treatment results.

Importantly, even after completing any other necessary forms of treatments or therapies, ongoing aftercare remains an essential factor in sustaining long-term sobriety. GHB addiction is a lifelong condition, but you can effectively manage it for the rest of your life.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated April 29, 2024
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