GHB Withdrawal and Detox

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a central nervous system depressant and a common illegal intoxicant. It comes in small bottles as a liquid or in the form of a white crystalline powder. GHB is very addictive. Detoxing can be difficult and dangerous. It may be abused to gain sedative and euphoric effects and has been linked to date-rape events due to its sedative properties.

Also, body builders are known to use it, because it can increase the release of growth hormones. Repeated use of GHB can result in withdrawal, which can be dangerous, especially if you’ve used it alongside alcohol or any other drugs.

Treatment will begin by removing the drug from your system while minimising withdrawal symptoms. GHB withdrawal and detox must be carried out in a treatment facility because acute delirium (one of the many varying side effects of withdrawing from GHB) needs to be treated with large doses of benzodiazepines. Your withdrawal symptoms can be expected to last between three and twelve days. During this period, your treatment centre will also look at any other issues you may have, from depression to insomnia, malnutrition and anxiety. If you also have a problem with alcohol addiction, treatment will also be provided during this time.

GHB Withdrawal – What Is It?

GHB withdrawal may begin soon after your last dose, within one to six hours. During withdrawal, your brain (which has become used to having some depressed functions) is suddenly freed from the drug, resulting in a severe rebound effect. All previously held-back functions now start to flood your system, and some dangerous psychological – and even physical – side effects may overload it. This is the main reason why you should never try to quit GHB suddenly or go ‘cold turkey’. It’s essential to have your vital signs monitored during GHB withdrawal to ensure your safety.

The severity of your GHB withdrawal symptoms will depend on the level of usage before quitting. If you were a heavy user – for instance, taking a dose of GHB every two hours for a number of years – you could be at risk of more serious side effects. GHB withdrawal may be similar to the process of withdrawal from other illicit drugs, like benzodiazepines, and may lead to life-threatening seizures. If you have become dependent on GHB, abruptly quitting or seriously reducing your use of the drug may lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms such as psychosis, delirium, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations and so on.

Types of GHB Withdrawal

Mild to Moderate Withdrawal (without delirium)

If your GHB withdrawal is mild to moderate, you’ll experience anxiety, tremors and insomnia, but remain appropriately interactive and lucid, without signs of hallucinations or delirium. You are also at a lesser immediate risk for severe complications but may continue to a state of agitated delirium. Inpatient detoxification is a recommended treatment at this stage.
To prevent acute decompensation, your doctor might treat your symptoms (e.g. diaphoresis, insomnia, anxiety and tremors) aggressively with sedative-hypnotic agents, such as Diazepam. Also, barbiturates such as phenobarbital and pentobarbital may be used. Your caregivers will monitor your pulse, mental status and vital signs, approximately every two hours. Even though it’s possible to treat mild GHB withdrawal at outpatient centres, it is safer for you to be treated at a hospital or inpatient rehabilitation centre.

Severe Withdrawal (with delirium)

In severe withdrawal, you’re at risk of self-harm and complications such as seizures, rhabdomyolysis or hyperthermia, and will require treatment with large doses of sedatives. You’ll require close surveillance in an intensive care unit or rehab clinic to monitor your cardiac and pulse conditions. Respiratory depression (as a result of high doses of sedatives used to control your withdrawals) may require closer attention. As soon as your agitated state is under control and intravenous sedatives are no longer required, you may no longer need inpatient treatment.

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Causes of GHB Withdrawal

Withdrawal is your body’s natural reaction to being deprived of a chemical substance you have become addicted to. You will experience symptoms of GHB withdrawal when attempting to quit or stop using the substance. GHB chemically alters your brain, making both your body and brain adjust to functioning in the presence of GHB. This means your brain believes it needs the substance to function. Therefore, when you attempt to quit using the drug, it can result in both physical and psychological cravings, as well as other physical reactions. Such physical reactions are a result of GHB withdrawal.

Excessive use of GHB excites and rewards your nervous system. If you use the substance daily, your body becomes dependent on GHB over time. When this happens, it becomes difficult for your system to adapt to a lack of GHB. If you suddenly stop using or significantly reduce your intake, it can cause GHB withdrawal. GHB is a drug that slows brain function. In order to compensate, a large number of your brain circuits increase in the basal level of activity. Without GHB present, those circuits become hyperactive, leading to hallucinations, anxiety, seizures or death.

GHB Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal timeline for GHB varies according to your usage, physical makeup and other factors. The GHB withdrawal process is similar to a combination of benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal. The timeline of GHB withdrawal occurs in two distinct stages:
Early acute withdrawal: symptoms occur from 1 – 24 hours after you stop heavy usage. These symptoms can include mild sweating, hypertension or tremors, moderate vomiting, anxiety, delirium and/or confusion, insomnia, nausea, insomnia and severe intermittent tachycardia.

A progressive change in symptoms may be noticed over the next 1 – 6 days to indicate a peak of your withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • The potential to hallucinate, severe anxiety, delirium, confusion, insomnia, restlessness and hypertension
  • Intermittent episodes of delirium
  • Moderate levels of sweating, hypertension and tremors
  • Mild issues with nausea and vomiting
  • Intermittent episodes of hallucinations, moderate anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and tachycardia
  • Finally, a period of extended episodic symptoms that begin after about one week following discontinuation and last for an additional week.

At any point in the withdrawal process, there is a possibility of developing seizures. These can be potentially fatal. If you are experiencing them, seek immediate medical attention. Also, some of the symptoms including depression, anxiety, and insomnia may last months after your detox.

GHB Withdrawal: Symptoms and Effects

The GHB withdrawal symptoms and effects that you may experience will be different from someone else’s. The severity of GHB withdrawal is generally affected by factors such as the presence of co-occurring illnesses, combining GHB with alcohol, heavy daily doses of GHB prior to quitting intake. Some people use GHB mixed with benzodiazepines or alcohol to feel better. Taking additional drugs with GHB places you at a risk of overdose and may result in an increase in the severity of your withdrawal. It can also cause you to develop other types of addictions.

Another effect of GHB withdrawal is memory loss, which can add complications to your treatment because you might forget the consequences addiction has had on you. Other symptoms of GHB withdrawal – such as problems with thinking, insomnia, anxiety and depression – may persist for several months and place you at a high risk of relapsing. Unsupervised withdrawal from GHB can be dangerous and may even lead to severe health risks. If you’re not dependent on the drug, you may be able to quit through education and outpatient therapy. However, if you’re a regular user, withdrawal can be severe, lasting up to two weeks. You should consider an inpatient treatment centre if you are already dependent on GHB and want to quit.

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Symptoms of GHB withdrawal

GHB has short-lived effects which quickly clear out of your body. As a result, you may experience a relatively speedy onset of withdrawal symptoms, usually starting from one to six hours after you last used. The symptoms of GHB withdrawal appear in different levels of severity, depending on the amount of the drug you normally take and how long you’ve been addicted. GHB is a highly addictive substance and may cause a prolonged withdrawal period of up to two weeks, in addition to some extreme symptoms (in some cases). In fact, during withdrawal from a mix of GHB, alcohol and benzodiazepines, delirium tremens is a common symptom and can be potentially fatal.

For this reason, it is recommended that if you have a GHB addiction problem and want to quit, treatment should only be carried out in a medical facility by professionals with specific experience with GHB.

Physical symptoms of GHB withdrawal

GHB withdrawal is highly specific, and your symptoms will vary in severity and duration, from what is generally expected. An accurate assessment by a capable medical team is necessary in order to determine if you require a medicated period of detoxification. The physical symptoms of GHB withdrawal you have will depend on your individual circumstances. Such symptoms will be monitored by experts at your treatment facility of choice and treated accordingly. As your body tries to adjust itself back to a state of living without the influence of GHB, you may suffer some physical withdrawal symptoms, including: insomnia, nausea, hypertension, tachycardia, tremors, muscle and bone aches, profuse sweating, nausea and vomiting, panic attacks, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.

Like most drugs, GHB can be very addictive and the withdrawal symptoms from suddenly halting usage can be severe and even life-threatening. Even short-term use of GHB can lead to addiction and withdrawal. Therefore, when you feel ready to stop using, it is critical to seek professional help or find an appropriate rehabilitation programme, because not all cases of GHB addiction are the same.

Psychological symptoms of GHB withdrawal

GHB withdrawal symptoms occur in an intermittent, wave-like frequency; with an initial phase of mild psychological and physical discomfort, followed by a later phase. At the subsequent phase, you may exhibit intense bursts of anger, paranoia and hallucinations, lasting from two to four days. Psychological symptoms will generally last longer than physical symptoms and it’s recommended that you stay in an addiction treatment facility even after your drug detox is completed, so as to allow your caregivers to address any underlying issues of anxiety, depression or sleep disturbances.

Attending drug rehab will help you cope with the psychological symptoms, without having to resort to GHB or other illicit drugs to find relief. Substance rehab staff can provide the additional support you need to adjust to life without GHB. This is one of the various reasons why inpatient treatment is the most effective method for dealing with GHB use. There are a number of psychological symptoms that can last for weeks or months – even after you’ve stopped using the drug. These include depression, anxiety, agitation, cravings, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, anger or emotional outbursts and an inability to feel pleasure.

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Effects of GHB withdrawal

Withdrawal from GHB can be highly debilitating – something that you might not expect from what’s termed a ‘party drug’. The severity of withdrawal depends on the amount of time you’ve used the substance, the frequency of usage and your general well-being. If you’ve become dependent on GHB, a sudden halt or significant reduction in using the drug may have some unpleasant effects on your mental and physical health, including:

  • Cravings for GHB
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Psychosis
  • Increased heart rate
  • Delirium
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Vomiting

GHB Detoxification

Standardised protocols for GHB addiction treatment have not yet been developed. However, some treatment centres are known to make use of anti-seizure medications, including benzodiazepine, as well as antipsychotic medications during the detoxification process. As a result of the sharp spike in blood pressure that could occur with GHB withdrawal, treatment centres also administer some types of medications to lower the increase in blood pressure.

GHB detoxification is best carried out via in-house or residential treatment so that your comfort and safety can be carefully monitored, as your normal dosage of GHB is gradually tapered to control the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that might occur. There have been a number of fatalities occurring amongst patients who abruptly stopped medication, so sudden abstinence from GHB is not recommended – especially if you are a heavy user. The expected length of time required for GHB detoxification is about 10 – 14 days.

GHB abuse: Detox process

If you’ve been abusing GHB, expunging the existing substance from your system is a major step to beginning treatment. Different drugs remain in the system up to weeks after the last usage. The GHB detox process can be an uncomfortable one, because your body may exhibit withdrawal symptoms as it becomes used to not having the drug available anymore. In certain cases, such withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous – for instance, seizures or stroke.

Most drug treatment programmes that offer detoxification require you to be under the care of a certified medical professional during your detox process.

After you’ve completed your detox, you will still need to go through treatment to completely recover from your GHB abuse. Therapy and group support programmes can help you to develop methods of handling problems and triggers without resorting to the use of GHB. This type of support can be found either through an inpatient treatment clinic or an outpatient one. By participating in a treatment programme, you can significantly increase the chances of your detoxification leading to a permanent quitting of GHB abuse.

GHB detoxification timeline

On average, GHB detoxification lasts five to seven days, even though each individual is different and several factors can determine both the duration and severity of your detox. Factors that can influence your detox process include high amount of stress and trauma, genetic predisposition to addiction, level of support at home, your metabolism and other biological aspects. Your level of dependence on GHB is another contributing factor in how long detoxing from the substance will take.

This means the more dependent on GHB you are, the greater your withdrawal symptoms will be, which will directly affect the GHB detoxification timeline. Detox is regarded as an initial step to treating GHB abuse and can be expected to last for about a week. In addition, GHB detoxification is not a standalone treatment. It needs to be followed by admission into a comprehensive addiction treatment programme.

Treatment methods and options

Recovery and treatment for GHB is typically a process that includes detox, rehab and aftercare. Before you can begin recovery, you first have to undergo withdrawal to get the remaining traces of GHB cleared out of your system. During detox and withdrawal, you’ll be properly monitored and the right medications will be provided for you – as needed – to ensure your safety. Even though the right kind of care will depend on how long you’ve been using (and how much), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that GHB withdrawal should be carried out in a hospital setting, with close medical supervision for about one or two weeks.

After detox, you can then spend time in a rehab setting, either as an inpatient or outpatient. If your addiction is significantly severe, an inpatient rehab lasting about 30 to 90 days is an ideal choice. You’ll be able to live at the facility and follow an organised daily schedule, involving therapy and educational groups. Outpatient treatment, on the other hand, offers part-time programmes that can last from several hours each day to a few weeks daily. However, the real work begins after you leave the rehab programme. Challenges often arise when you’re trying to leave drugs behind, and having someone to help you navigate this path can be extremely helpful. Forms of support might include 12-step support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or non-12 step programmes like SMART recovery. If you don’t feel ready to return home after treatment, sober living – where you live with other recovering addicts – can also be a good option.

Finding the right treatment

In practical terms, you may find your addiction easier or more difficult to break than someone else. Medical supervision is a key part of the process, as the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms of GHB can be quite disturbing for you.

The important thing to remember with GHB addiction treatment is that you are not alone. The right rehab will let you spend time in GHB addiction treatment therapy sessions, where you can explore the reasons why you started GHB. This will help you avoid a relapse in the future after your treatment is over. Therapies may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group therapy, motivational interviewing, motivational incentives and multidimensional family therapy.

Find the best residential GHB recovery centre

The first step to achieving complete recovery from GHB is to seek help. Professional GHB rehab programmes are designed to help you successfully maintain a sober life.

Once you can admit that there is a problem, it’s time to find the best residential GHB recovery centre. The best and safest course of treatment for GHB abuse and addiction can be found in a tailor-made residential rehabilitation programme.

When you need addiction treatment, there are a number of resources you can benefit from to break free of GHB usage. To begin, you need to look for a medical facility that provides personalised treatment plans that take into consideration your personal preferences, needs, current condition and personal goals. This is important because the settings, duration and therapies that will be most effective for you will be determined by a highly individualised treatment, following consultation with an addiction specialist or treatment provider. Finding the best residential GHB recovery centre may seem difficult. You can contact a treatment advisor who can answer your questions confidentially at any time of the day or night, and help you find a match for your treatment needs.

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Home detox for GHB abusers: How safe is it?

When you’re ready to begin a life of sobriety and detox from GHB, you have a number of options how to carry out your detox, including doing it alone at home. However, home detox can potentially create uncomfortable, dangerous or even fatal complications. A home detox is lacking in the ways to handle an emergency medical situation if one arises. It can be difficult to correctly anticipate and promptly take care of unforeseen and life-threatening physical or psychological emergencies without medical assistance. If severe side-effects arise, there will be a significant ‘wait time’ for help to come to your house, and the lost time in between could be critical.

It is recommended that detoxing from central nervous system depressants such as GHB should only occur in an inpatient setting. In some cases, you may be able to attend a detox treatment through an outpatient programme and stay at home during the process. However, this depends on your doctor’s recommendation for your care and on the severity of your condition. In any case, you should always consult your doctor when preparing to undergo detox and ensure that the detox programme you choose is right for your needs.

Self-detoxification from GHB

It can be extremely difficult – and in certain cases, even fatal – to try to stop using GHB on your own. Detox for GHB is a lot harder than for many other drugs and there are numerous, serious side effects.

However, if you prefer to undergo self-detoxification from GHB, it’s best to have a solid plan of action and ensure you have a friend or family member around to call for help if it should be necessary.

In addition, it’s a good idea to have prescription medication given by a doctor to handle any symptoms from detox. Also, there are other drugs that are sold over the counter which may help to deal with symptoms like nausea, vomiting or insomnia. Other tools to have available include a thermometer, anti-vomiting kit and a blood-pressure testing kit. Taking these steps may make self-detoxification from GHB a little bit safer, but for the most part, you should use caution and weigh the risks carefully, before making your final decision.

Ready for Help?

Detox centres offer the most appropriate, safest and most effective way to achieve a full recovery and start a sober and happy life. The main thing to remember about GHB addiction withdrawal and detox is that your body will be cleared of harmful toxins, so you can start rehabilitation free of the debilitating physical and mental effects of addiction.

If you’re ready for help, contact your GP, a charity, or a confidential addiction helpline. They will listen to you and get to work on helping you find the best treatment programme for your specific needs, location and budget.

Get answers to your questions: Request a call

When you want to quit using drugs, it can be easy to doubt that you will overcome withdrawal symptoms and can even convince yourself that you’re better off using GHB than facing a detox process. While withdrawal can be difficult, it should not get in the way of living the life you dream of. Look for a provider who can give you answers to your questions or concerns about GHB recovery, including how long your detox will take and the best treatment options for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can these symptoms be categorised in order of seriousness and are there side-effects?

Some of the GHB withdrawal symptoms can be potentially life-threatening. The most serious dangers tend to occur during unsupervised withdrawal.

How long do GHB withdrawal symptoms take?

GHB withdrawal symptoms can occur within a few hours or days after you quit using the drug. With continued sobriety, symptoms typically disappear over time.

Do symptoms and their duration vary from person to person?

Symptoms and duration vary from person to person since they are determined by your unique tolerance, use history, metabolic profile and degree of intoxication.

How long does GHB withdrawal last?

The duration for GHB withdrawal generally depends on the amount of the drug you’ve ingested and how long you have been addicted.

Do you have a list of popular slang or street names for GHB?

Popular slang or street names for GHB include G, Gamma-OH, Everclear, Scoop, Liquid X, Liquid Ecstasy (not the same as ecstasy), Soap, Easy Lay, Salty Water, Grievous Bodily Harm and Georgia Home Boy.

Can I get help for GHB addiction?

If you or a loved one is addicted to GHB, you need a form of detoxification programme that has licensed addiction specialists ready to help you go through all the stages of your recovery.

Are there any home remedies for getting clean safely?

Home remedies can sometimes ease some of the brutal symptoms of GHB withdrawal. Some of them include drinking plenty of hydrating fluids.

How long does it take to detox from GHB?

Detoxing from GBH commonly lasts five to seven days. Your level of dependence, amount of substance used and the length of time using the drug will determine the specific duration for you.

What happens during stimulant detox?

When you become dependent on a stimulant, your body is already adapted to having the drug in your system and during detox, you may experience severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms as a result of being deprived.

Why should I enter a stimulant detox programme?

A stimulant detox programme is advisable because you can undergo the sometimes complicated process of stimulant detox under the close supervision of medical professionals.

What is GHB withdrawal?

GHB withdrawal occurs when you stop taking your normal dose of GHB or cease taking it altogether. The most common withdrawal symptoms include tremors, insomnia, anxiety and sweating.

What are the types of GHB withdrawal?

GHB withdrawal can either occur in a mild and moderate form without delirium, or in a severe withdrawal form characterised by delirium.

When will I stop craving GHB?

GHB cravings are a part of the symptoms you may experience during withdrawal. Cravings are usually strong during withdrawal, but after your detox, they will taper off and eventually fade.

Can anyone tell I’m using GHB?

It can be difficult for other people to tell if you are using GHB. However, you may display some of the physical side effects such as amnesia, drowsiness and impaired movements which can be identified.

Can you die from GHB withdrawal?

GHB withdrawal – especially when unsupervised – can be dangerous and may even lead to death.

Are symptoms different for different people?

The wide range of withdrawal symptoms (including anxiety, tremors, insomnia, sweating) will differ from one person to another, especially when mixed with alcohol or other sedatives.

How important is medically supervised detox?

A medically supervised detox is recommended (especially if you have a serious alcohol addiction) to facilitate the process and ensure a better chance of recovery.

How is GHB used?

While GHB has been employed in medical settings as a treatment for alcoholism, narcolepsy and cataplexy, it can also be used illegally as an intoxicant.

Is GHB legal?

GHB is a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possessing or selling them for human consumption is therefore against the law.

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