GHB Abuse: Signs, Symptoms, Withdrawal Risks & Treatment
Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a sedative that was once prescribed to relieve pain, but is no longer used for medicinal purposes in the U.S. due to its dangerous, life-threatening effects. This central nervous system depressant offers a high risk for abuse and addiction, and can be deadly when combined with other substances including benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Understanding GHB Abuse
GHB is commonly known as a date rape drug due to the way it causes short-term memory loss and extreme sedation. GHB is also sometimes used by athletes and bodybuilders for its ability to stimulate muscle growth, though no scientific evidence supports this theory. Today, only one form of medicinal GHB is legally approved to treat narcolepsy, which is sold under the brand name Xyrem.
On the streets, GHB is known as liquid ecstasy, liquid x, and gamma 10. The drug reduces blood pressure and heart rate, while enhancing sexual pleasure and relaxation. Those who use GHB often forget events that happen while intoxicated, which is why this sedative is commonly used on the club scene as a date rape drug.
GHB is a highly potent substance with fast-acting effects — meaning those who use the drug for short periods of time can quickly develop a tolerance. Those who become tolerant to GHB start using higher doses to achieve the same level of euphoria, and to feel “normal” as they navigate through daily life. This is known as physical dependency, which increases the risk for addiction, and can be successfully treated at most drug rehab centers.
Signs and Symptoms of GHB Abuse
Most GHB users typically start feeling the drug’s effects within 20 minutes of use. GHB causes changes in behavior and appearance, which are often relatively easy to spot due to this drug’s powerful, intoxicating effects.
Common signs and symptoms of GHB abuse include:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Extreme relaxation
- Reduced anxiety
- Lowered inhibitions
- Memory loss
- Slowed heart rate
- Slowed respiration
- Lowered body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of muscle control
- Enhanced sexual libido
- Enhanced sociability
- Energetic or aggressive behavior
- Mood swings
- Sudden weight loss
- Secretive behavior
- Loss of relationships, jobs, and finances
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting
- Experiencing cravings
- Decline in personal hygiene
- Developing a tolerance to GHB
Dangers & Risk Factors Associated with GHB Abuse
GHB is not approved for medicinal use, and can have a dangerous, life-threatening impact on the body after just one use. Since GHB is frequently used at clubs and parties, the drug is often mixed with alcohol — increasing the risk for paralysis to the body and respiratory system on behalf of both substances’ sedative effects. Using GHB in a club, party, or rave setting also increases the risk for sexual assault, violence, and death, due to the way this substance causes extreme sedation and blackouts.
In addition to increasing the risk for date rape, GHB use carries many short-term and long-term health risks.
Serious health risks associated with GHB abuse are:
- Impaired memory and cognition
- Impaired balance
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Sexual assault
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Respiratory failure
- Liver failure
Impaired balance increases the risk for accidents, while respiratory failure can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, or death. Another serious risk associated with GHB use is addiction. Addiction can cause problems with your health and overall livelihood, and be difficult to overcome on your own without getting help at a local addiction treatment center.
Who’s At Risk of GHB Abuse & Addiction?
Anyone who uses GHB just one time is at risk for abuse and addiction due to the way this highly potent drug produces euphoria and leads to physical dependence. You may be at high risk for GHB abuse and addiction if you also abuse other substances, such as alcohol, opioids, and/or marijuana.
You may be at risk for GHB addiction if you meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Have a personal history of drug abuse or addiction
- Have a family history of drug abuse or addiction
- Suffer one or more mental health disorders (depression, ADHD)
- Have a history of trauma or abuse
- Are surrounded by negative influences at home
- Suffer chronic stress
- Have problems with your career, education, or relationships
- Are under the age of 30
- Frequently go to clubs, parties, and raves
GHB abuse can lead to full-blown addiction after using the drug for just several days. GHB interferes with brain chemicals in a way that increases the risk for addiction, especially when certain risk factors are present such as having a family history of drug abuse and addiction. Addiction can be physical and psychological, and cause changes in your behavior, emotions, and appearance.
Many who struggle with GHB addiction often have difficulty controlling the amount of GHB they use, as well as the frequency at which they use the drug. They may devote more time to obtaining, using, and recovering from GHB, and less time to family, work, and hobbies. Those who struggle with GHB addiction may also experience problems with the law, since GHB is considered an illicit substance and impairs judgment.
Fortunately, GHB addiction can be treated at nearly any drug rehab center that offers detoxification and counseling. These treatments help you overcome physical dependency on GHB, along with psychological causes driving your addiction. Overcoming addiction both physically and mentally lowers your risk for relapse, and helps you stay clean long-term in the months and years following treatment.
Am I Addicted to GHB?
Sometimes, you may not know you have a problem with addiction until it’s too late. You may be addicted to GHB if you experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms when not using GHB, or if you’ve made a series of lifestyle changes to accommodate GHB use.
If you’re abusing GHB and think you might have a problem with addiction, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you need help.
- Do I experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms when not using GHB?
- Have I been using higher doses of GHB?
- Have I been using GHB more frequently?
- Have I been making excuses to use GHB?
- Have I been using GHB with alcohol and other substances?
- Is GHB use causing problems with my relationships, job, and education?
- Have I tried quitting GHB in the past without success?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be suffering from addiction to GHB. Your next step is to speak with a caring drug abuse counselor about your options for local addiction treatment centers that can help.
GHB Addiction Treatment Options
GHB addiction treatment helps you improve your health, turn your life around for the better, and achieve lifelong sobriety. GHB addiction is usually treated using a combination of detoxification, counseling, and aftercare. These three treatments help you overcome addiction as a whole both physically and psychologically.
Detoxification helps you overcome physical dependency on GHB, while counseling helps you identify and overcome behaviors and thought-processes that drive GHB use. Aftercare programs offer ongoing education, 12-step support groups, and counseling, and are designed to help you stay sober for life following addiction treatment. The best drug rehab centers will tailor addiction treatments just for you or your loved one based on addiction status, addiction history, and personal recovery needs.
Detoxification is the first stage of GHB addiction treatment, and helps you overcome physical addiction to the drug so you no longer experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Quitting GHB abruptly can have adverse, life-threatening health consequences, and should not be done outside of a controlled medical environment. Medical detox is usually a preferred GHB detox method at most drug rehab centers, since this method involves 24/7 monitoring by caring and experienced medical staff.
GHB medical detox is often conducted at an inpatient drug detox or drug rehab center. Medical detox often involves the use of drugs and medications that help reduce or eliminate certain withdrawal symptoms. For instance, you may be prescribed a sleep aid to combat insomnia during withdrawal.
GHB withdrawal symptoms typically begin within six hours of quitting the drug, and may last for up to several days.
Common GHB withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Chest pain
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- GHB cravings
Many drug rehab centers offer other therapies alongside detox that can help accelerate your recovery from GHB addiction. For instance, nutrition therapy and exercise help push toxins from your body so you can overcome physical dependency on GHB even sooner. Holistic detox is available at some drug rehab centers to help you overcome physical dependency on GHB naturally and safely without the use of drugs or medications.
Recovering from GHB addiction at a drug rehab center is often your best chance at defeating and overcoming addiction in full. Drug rehab centers offer safe environments away from distractions and negative influences, and offer medications and other therapies that help you safely and comfortably overcome GHB addiction. Going to drug rehab gives you the opportunity to improve your health, happiness, and overall livelihood, and quit using GHB for good.
After completing GHB detox, you may participate in individual, group, and family counseling sessions that help you overcome mental causes of addiction. Behavioral counseling is available to help you overcome co-occurring mental health disorders such as PTSD and bipolar disorder, while 12-step support groups like Narcotics Anonymous allow you to bond with other recovering addicts who share similar struggles. Art therapy, animal therapy, and other unique therapies are also available at some drug rehab centers to help you overcome and express your feelings about addiction.
Your stay at drug rehab can last anywhere from several weeks to several months, based on the severity of your addiction to GHB. Addiction treatment is often available in an inpatient or outpatient setting so you can choose to either live at the facility or at home for the duration of treatment.
Inpatient rehab is ideal for those who need help establishing healthy daily routines free of drug use, and who need safe, comfortable environments in which to recover. Outpatient rehab is ideal for those struggling with mild addiction to GHB, and who must also balance work, school, and family lives. If you’re not sure which rehab setting is best for you or your loved one, one of our caring drug abuse counselors can discuss all your treatment options.