GHB Addiction and Abuse

According to experts, dealing with GHB addiction is as hard as breaking free from heroin addiction. Dutch researchers at Radboud University found that GHB addicts see the positive effects of the drug long after withdrawal and dependency has passed.

An addict who shared his experience with the popular ‘date rape’ drug says at first, he used it to improve his sexual libido and let go of inhibitions and body image issues, but soon developed an addiction that lasted ten years.

When you take high doses, you risk “going under”, which lasts from 20 minutes to five hours. The drug is popular in clubs and parties and is sold as odourless oil and colourless liquids in small bottles or capsules.

What Is GHB?

Gamma-hydroxy-butyrate is a metabolite that works as a depressant or relaxant on the central nervous system. This Class C drug reduces inhibition in users and increases sexual desire with an accompanying risk of coma, unconsciousness and death.

People who abuse GHB feel less anxious and more confident under the influence and there’s no hangover the next day. The major problem with abusing GHB is that almost half its users are taken to emergency rooms in a comatose state induced by the drug.

GHB is not a safe, benign drug, free of side-effects. The drug is addictive and withdrawal symptoms last longer than other psychoactive drugs. The severity of withdrawal symptoms in some cases is terrifying and even life-threatening. Sadly, many emergency rooms don’t know how to treat it properly, as they aren’t familiar with the drug. This can make it quite difficult to seek help for GHB addiction.

‘Liquid G’ is common in the club scene and has been used by gay people in ‘chem-sex parties’ for over ten years. Such venues are characterised by the presence of alcohol, ecstasy, ketamine, LSD and other substances that increase the risk of overdose or the severity of addiction.

When you take GHB for recreational purposes, it can be considered abuse. As time passes, you’ll need higher doses to feel the psychoactive effect of the drug, which leads to dependency. The moment you can’t control your drug habit or need GHB to have sex, feel pleasure or function normally, you’ve crossed the threshold into addiction.

The Different Forms of GHB

When used in the form of salt, it is known as γ-hydroxybutyrate (NaGHB). In potassium form, it’s referred to as γ- hydroxybutyrate (K.GHB), 1,4 Butanediol (also known as GHB-OH) and GBL (Gamma-butyrolactone).

The most common type of GHB is NaGHB or sodium GHB. When 1,4 BD or GBL enters the body, it converts to GHB. The taste is salty and users experience similar effects from the drug. After GHB was classified under the Misuse of Drug Act in 2003, dealers switched to 1,4 BD and GBL as legal alternatives.

In 2009, both drugs were also brought under control and classified as Class C drugs. In the medical field, it is used as an anaesthetic and in the treatment of alcoholism, cataplexy and narcolepsy. When used illegally as an intoxicant, it is used as a date rape drug, performance-enhancing stimulant and illicit substance.

GHB’s History

Alexander Zaytsev was the first to report the synthesis of the GHB chemical in 1874, but major research into its application didn’t start until the 1960s by Dr Henri Laborit. It was used in Italy, France and many European countries as an anaesthetic in childbirth and a sleeping agent, but problems with abuse led to reduced medical use.

In the US, GHB is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. In the UK, it was upgraded to Schedule 2 in January 2015, in line with United Nations recommendations. It gained notoriety in 2016 during the trial of serial killer Stephen Port, who was given a life sentence for poisoning four gay men with lethal doses of GHB.

GHB Abuse Causes

There are many reasons why people abuse GHB. For recreational users, it causes a stimulant effect comparable to MDMA use, such as enhanced libido and euphoria. When used for recreation, it’s mostly sold as potassium salt or sodium. Party users who want to let go of inhibitions use it to intensify the experience of being in a rave, music festival, club or party.

For athletes, GHB increases growth hormone in-vitro.

People who want to build muscle mass use it to fast-track the process. Meanwhile, as a date rape drug, it dissolves in the drink of an unsuspecting victim, who feels sleepy and groggy. When they wake up, they have limited memories of any events that happened while they were under the influence of the drug.

Why Is GHB Addictive?

GHB is an intoxicating substance that acts as a depressant. Some people who follow false advertising believe that GHB (or its variants) is a safe sleeping tablet, used to get a good night’s rest. Sadly, even when consumed in small doses, it’s easy to become addicted. The feeling of euphoria, relaxation and sexual stimulation is all most people remember after the ‘high’ and this activates the reward centre of your brain to continue usage to feel the same effect.

Addictive properties of GHB & method of use
GHB doesn’t require an advanced knowledge of chemistry. The product is made by mixing alkali hydroxide and GBL precursors to form GHB salt. This means that GHB doesn’t have to be purchased in its natural form. If you include one type of GHB – such as Gamma-Butyrolactone or 1,4-butanediol – the body converts it to GHB and produces similar effects.

GHB acts on two receptors in the brain – the GHB receptor and the GABAB receptor. Most of it is metabolised in the liver, while the kidneys excrete the rest. These two receptors work as a CNS depressant and impair psychomotor functions. GHB is sold in water bottles (dissolved in liquid), vitamin bottles and eyedroppers. The powder form isn’t as popular as a liquid, but the method of usage is the same.

The dosage for different concentrations of GHB salt in water is hard to determine. The concentration of the drug might not have any effect today, yet the next time it might result in a fatal overdose. DanceSafe advises users to take half a teaspoon and wait at least an hour before taking any more. Some people prefer to take it at regular intervals, while others sip continuously from a bottle of water in which the drug is diluted.

GHB Abuse and Addiction Signs, Effects and Symptoms

Signs of Liquid X abuse usually manifest within 10 to 20 minutes after ingestion and level off between 45 minutes to two hours after you ingested the drug. The immediate signs of abuse include disorientation, lowered inhibitions, increased sexual libido and euphoria. In higher doses, you could black out or become unconscious for up to 40 minutes. This dangerous side effect of taking GHB is why it’s attractive to sexual predators, as it lowers the risk of being discovered.

Long-term usage changes the brain chemistry just like benzos and alcohol. Addiction signs manifest when the individual cannot function without taking ‘G’. It becomes a part of your daily routine until you find yourself unable to stop taking the drug, even when you know the risk.

GHB abuse

Women who attend crowded parties, leave their drinks unwatched or accept drinks from strangers in clubs often wake up after passing out. The signs of physical abuse are present, but they have no memory of the event. Recreational users want to feel relaxed and confident when having a good time, while athletes and bodybuilders who want to accelerate the process of building muscle mass take shortcuts with GHB.

Gamma-hydroxy-butyrate is sold on the streets but made in homes and underground. Sometimes, the ingredients are collected from drain cleaner and floor strippers. When people take GHB, the body breaks it down and over time, it affects your brain’s neurochemistry.

It targets the GHB receptor as a precursor to the GABA, the neurotransmitter that calms things down in your mind. GHB slows down your natural body processes to produce a calming effect. While it’s rare, users sometimes develop a dependence on the drug, which is severe. When you attempt to quit, the withdrawal symptoms hit you hard.

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Signs and symptoms of GHB abuse

When a person takes GHB, the brain accepts it as a natural chemical and immediately breaks it down. This sets off the same reaction – similar to when the brain produces its own gamma-hydroxybutyrate. The response is different, however, because the brain is receiving a higher dosage.

In small doses, it’s a stress and anxiety reliever, but when taking larger doses, you might experience seizures when your brain is flooded with information from different signals. The Center for Substance Abuse research suggests that the reaction depends on the drugs in a person system, combined with the dose of GHB consumed.

Effects of GHB abuse

The effects of GHB abuse start 10 minutes after taking the drug and can last up to 24 hours in an individual if it’s consumed in high doses. Effects of taking GHB include sweating, headaches, tremors, loss of muscle control, respiratory problem, nausea and slurred speech. Psychological effects of GHB abuse include: hallucinations, insomnia, euphoria, amnesia, euphoria and increased or relieved anxiety.

Long-term GHB abuse effects

A recovering GHB addict in the UK says he’s seen friends pass out or comatose after taking GHB. A small increase of 0.5 ml can make the difference between a small dose and an overdose. Users risk becoming dependent within a few weeks and those who become addicted should seek help. When combined with other drugs (which is most often the case), GHB has an extreme side effect. If you mix it with illicit substances like ketamine or alcohol, it amplifies your chances of slipping into coma or suffering amnesia.

When GHB is taken for extended periods, many symptoms can occur. They include infections and mouth sores, concentration difficulty, slurred speech, hallucinations, respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse, seizures, muscle pain and extreme anxiety.

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Short term GBH Abuse Effects

According to Project GHB, the majority of people who seek help for GHB addiction are athletes, bodybuilders, entertainment wrestlers, casual ‘gym junkies’ and even professionals. It is apparently one of the darkest secrets in the world of sport. When you’ve built up a tolerance, it’s hard to stop.

The short-term effect can last from 90 minutes to four hours in small doses – and longer when a larger dose is consumed or if mixed with other stimulants. The first thing you’ll feel after taking GHB is a state of euphoria, relaxation and improved mood. Other short-term effects of taking GHB include:

  • Agitation
  • Amnesia
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lack of inhibitions
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing

Alcoholics who take GHB put themselves in grave danger because it’s hard to determine the right dosage, due to “homegrown” varieties and different concentrations. You’ll feel the full effect of alcohol or other substances at first, such as intoxication, drowsiness and falling into a deep sleep, from which it’s hard to wake you.

GHB Addiction Treatment

Ryan Reeves – the former WWE superstar, who went by the stage name of Ryback – used to ‘take GHB. He would put it in his water bottle and continuously sip it throughout the day. He took it in the morning, before he ate breakfast, before practice, before and after he took a nap, as well as a capful on the way to the gym. It was the first thing he was addicted to. He didn’t realise he was addicted until he woke one day and found he had vomited, urinated and defecated on his bedroom walls.

In the US, GHB was banned as an over-the-counter drug in 1990 by the Food and Drug Administration, who found it unsafe. Despite attempts to alert the public to the dangers of consuming GHB, it found its way to the club scene as a recreational drug.

Currently, treatment for GHB addiction includes medically supervised detox, drug rehabilitation, behavioural therapy, group counselling, 12-step programmes and more. You can choose to attend rehab as an inpatient or outpatient, depending on the length of time you’ve used GHB, whether poly-drug use is an issue, and the severity of addiction, as well as other medical considerations.

Detoxing from GHB

There was a time when people thought addiction only manifested when people with substance abuse disorders bit their nails or paced endlessly back and forth. Some thought addicts simply lacked the discipline to quit ‘cold turkey’. Scientists have proved today that addiction occurs because of chemical changes in the brain, just like what happens when you take GHB.

Illegal manufactures of illicit drugs use chemical components to mimic the effect of well-known narcotics, whilst technically remaining legal. These substances are called analogues. GHB derivatives such as 1,4 BD and GBL contain these analogues. Most people addicted to GHB are teenagers and young adults who attend raves, clubs and night parties. The drug is very addictive and its symptoms should be treated with urgency to prevent any lasting damage.

Detox is the first step in getting help for addiction. Under the care of a medical doctor, nurses and care professionals, the drug is flushed from your system. Withdrawal symptoms start showing within 12 to 24 hours after your last dose, and a doctor might administer medication to help reduce the painful side effects of GHB withdrawal. Detox lasts five to ten days, depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment and therapy options for GHB abuse and addiction

Inpatient treatment: the first step to getting treatment is to acknowledge your addiction. Next, put a call through to an expert counsellor. They will assist in finding you the best rehab facility that adequately treats your drug addiction. Inpatient facilities are the safest places to detox successfully. You can also attend counselling and therapy sessions that will prepare you to live a drug-free life after rehab.

Outpatient care: an outpatient facility is best for mild users who don’t have a polydrug abuse problem or co-occurring disorder. You’ll detox from home and attend rehab at a facility close to your residence. It also allows you to go to work, school or complete your daily responsibilities.

Behavioural therapies for drug addiction: behavioural therapies engage recovering addicts and offer incentives for sobriety. You’ll learn how to adjust your behaviour, actions and attitudes relating to substance abuse. You’ll also know how to identify triggers and handle stressors in a positive manner. Options here include family therapy, 12-step facilitation therapy, motivation enhancement therapy, contingency management intervention and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

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Cost of treatment and financing recovery

The cost of treatment is cheap when you consider the irrevocable damage GHB addiction wreaks on your personal health, finances, work, family and friends. There are many options when you want to pay for rehab. Firstly, determine the type of treatment you’ll need and the cheapest way to pay, without compromising the quality of healthcare you’ll receive. You can also call a charity or a helpline to help you.

If you have a good support network, your friends and family can chip in to pay for rehab. Alternatively, you could take a home equity loan, acquire direct financing through your credit card, sell off a few high-end items you don’t need or look for financing from a treatment centre. Most rehab centres will work out a payment structure based on your current income, without leaving you penniless.

GHB Withdrawal

Because of the life-threatening side effects of taking GHB, medical professionals don’t advise addicts to attempt detox ‘cold turkey’. The withdrawal symptoms are severe and you shouldn’t go through detox alone. The aftermath of addiction includes anxiety and depression that lasts for weeks in some and months in others. The period after detox is tricky because when you face depression, you’ll need medication for insomnia and anxiety, but there’s the danger of becoming addicted to these drugs and substituting one addiction for another.

The longer you take GHB, the higher the dosage and the more intense the level of drug dependence. Combining multiple depressant drugs raises the risk of a fatal overdose and produces cross-tolerance that worsens drug dependence on both substances. Severe drug dependency increases the timeline of detox and withdrawal symptoms.

The Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal states that withdrawal from GHB is life-threatening. Therefore, detox and withdrawal symptoms should be managed in a special facility that provides 24-hour medical care.

Effects of withdrawal

Dopamine is often linked to addiction and GHB works on the dopamine system of the brain. The brain secretes dopamine when it feels pleasure. After a while, your body adjusts to prevent it from being overwhelmed with dopamine. It triggers the reward area of the brain and encourages users to keep using drugs until they develop a dependency.

People start experiencing withdrawal 24 hours after their last dose. The early signs include vomiting and nervousness. After a few days, other withdrawal symptoms such as delirium, anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia and confusion become obvious. In cases where the individual was mixing GHB with alcohol, symptoms might last up to two weeks and include signs like cognitive deficits, depression and insomnia.

Getting through withdrawal from GHB

Pharmacology is the major tool for managing withdrawal symptoms. For GHB, the drug of choice is benzodiazepines. GBL/GHB share similar features with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including sweating, tremor, confusion, agitation and anxiety. However, withdrawal symptoms of GHB are more severe with the rapid onset of psychosis and delirium.

Clinical studies show that using benzodiazepines as the sole treatment is insufficient in most cases, with most patients requiring acute medical care. Baclofen has been suggested to support managing acute GHB withdrawal. The best way to survive GHB withdrawal is to stay at a rehab facility, where medical professionals can supervise your detox and provide the right medication that helps you detox safely.

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Get Clean and Stop Your GHB Abuse Today

GHB carries many long-term hazards outside of the short-term risks. In the long run, you might suffer kidney failure, liver damage and increased risk of death caused by overdose, seizures and unexplained blackouts.

If you’re unable to quit on your own, neglect your family, work and other responsibilities, experience intense cravings to use GHB, obsess with the next dose and continue using the drug (even after seeing the damage it’s causing to your personal health), then you’re at risk of addiction.

People usually guess the dosage, which means that every “next one” is a potential overdose. You have to take the first step if you have a serious desire to break free from the shackles of GHB addiction.

Repairing the damage

There is no sugarcoating it; relationships are broken by drug abuse take time to fix and in some cases, the damage is irreparable. You can start by taking better care of your body. Create an exercise regimen and eat healthy, brain-nourishing food that reverses the damage done to your brain. Attend individual and family counselling with your friends and loved ones. As time passes, you will start to heal.

Get help today

Many people lack adequate insurance to pay for addiction treatment. This is why contacting a helpline is of importance – they can proffer advice and guide you to rehab facilities within their network. They can also help you work out a payment structure within your budget.

Let nothing stop you from getting clean from drug addiction today. The longer you use GHB, the more potent its effect on your brain and the harder it’ll be to quit.

Advice for families

Addiction is tough on families, not only the individual. With drugs like GHB/GBL, it’s harder to spot symptoms of substance abuse. However, you play an integral part in the recovery journey.

Conduct your research on GHB addiction and encourage your loved one to enter rehab. Attend family therapy sessions and don’t judge, but manage your expectations and ensure they know you’re with them every step of the way. Recovering addicts have a higher chance of sobriety when there’s motivation to stay sober.

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Important Facts about GHB Addiction and Abuse

GHB is a naturally occurring substance in animals, humans, citrus fruits, wine and beef.

Most people who abuse GHB are co-currently using other illicit substances.

A small amount of GHB is fast-acting, showing effects within 15-30 minutes of taking the drug.

GHB is a Class C drug and trafficking it may send you toa term.

GHB withdrawal symptoms last between five to seven days in mild users and up to two months in chronic users.

Frequently Asked Questions

Could you be addicted to GHB?

Most GHB addicts only remember the positive effect of the drug. Some experience blackouts and memory loss, so it’s hard to know when you’re addicted. However, if you crave GHB after quitting or have the willingness to quit but you’re incapable of detoxing, these are addictions symptoms.

Are you addicted to GHB?

If you show any signs of dependency or start to experience withdrawal when you quit abruptly, you should seek help for GHB addiction.

Where can I find a GHB addiction treatment?

If you need assistance with GHB addiction treatment, addiction helplines will help you find a suitable programme that caters to your individual needs and addresses psychological aspects of substance abuse disorder.

What causes GHB addiction?

Addiction happens when you develop a reliance on GHB to perform daily functions. With each dose, you’ll need to increase the quantity to feel the same ‘high’. It’s hard to determine the right dose, which means you can spiral into addiction within a few weeks of using GHB.

What is gamma-hydroxybutyric acid used for?

GHB is a psychoactive drug that was used as general anaesthetic and treatment for narcolepsy and alcoholism. Sexual predators use it as a date rape drug, while bodybuilders mix it in their drinks to build muscle mass. Also, recreational users abuse GHB to enjoy parties and increase sexual libido.

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