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GHB Addiction and Abuse

Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, is a drug that people often abuse at clubs, parties, or bars. GHB has some anti-anxiety properties, and some people may use it to lower inhibitions. GHB may also give rise to a sense of euphoria which, in addition to these other desired effects, may prompt repeated use. In some instances, people have used it as a date rape drug because it can cause amnesia and unconsciousness.


Is GHB Addictive?

Someone who frequently uses GHB can become addicted to the drug. Regular use of GHB can lead to tolerance, in which the user must take increasingly higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect they felt before. This repeated and escalated use can drive the development of physiological dependence, where the person’s system adapts to the presence of the drug and relies on it to function.1 Severe GHB dependence was found to follow daily intake of different amounts of GHB over a period that ranged from 2 months to 3 years.2

Tolerance and dependence are two of the criteria used to diagnose addiction in clinical settings. But they are not the same thing as addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic condition where a person continues to use a substance even though it harms their life.3 Addiction often includes tolerance and dependence, but there are social, physical, and psychological components as well. For example, the person may neglect their work or school responsibilities in favor of drug use or crave the substance.4


Checking Your Insurance Benefits

If you are looking for GHB addiction treatment, it can feel overwhelming. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs or financial struggles. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at , click here, or fill out the form below.


What is GHB?

Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It acts on at least two sites in the brain: a GABAB receptor and a GHB binding site. GHB occurs naturally in the brain, but at much lower concentrations than those found in street doses.5

Recreationally, teens and young adults abuse GHB at bars, nightclubs, concerts, and parties. Its reputation as a euphoric, disinhibiting aphrodisiac with a short duration of action, absence of a hangover, and difficult detection on many toxicology screens have no doubt fueled its recreational use.6

Sexual predators may use GHB as a “date rape” drug. People who are given GHB without their knowledge may become unconscious and unable to defend themselves from sexual assault.

Street names for GHB include:1

  • Georgia Home Boy.
  • Liquid Ecstasy.
  • Grievous Bodily Harm.
  • Salty Water.
  • Growth Hormone Booster.
  • Liquid X.
  • Vita G.
  • Goop.

What is GHB Addiction?

Someone might start off experimenting with GHB in a club setting and progress to using it in other settings, such as at home. They may begin to rely on the drug to help them relax, sleep, or loosen up in social situations. Over several weeks of regular use, they can develop tolerance and dependence and find it difficult to stop using due to the withdrawal symptoms.

Signs that may indicate that a person should seek treatment for GHB addiction include:4

  • Using GHB in increasingly larger amounts over time.
  • Being unable to stop or reduce GHB use.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from GHB use.
  • Craving GHB.
  • Having a hard time taking care of responsibilities at work, school, or home because of drug use.
  • Continuing to use even though GHB use is interfering with relationships.
  • Giving up previously enjoyed activities in favor of GHB.
  • Using GHB in situations where it is unsafe to do so, such as while driving.
  • Continuing to use GHB even though you know it is causing physical or psychological problems.
  • Developing a tolerance to GHB.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using.

If you or someone you know has displayed at least 2 of these behaviors in the past year, you may have developed an addiction to GHB which could benefit from professional substance abuse treatment help.4


What are the Signs and Symptoms of GHB Addiction?

The full range of GHB effects experienced by those using the drug will depend on the dose and whether it’s taken with other drugs.1 A user will generally begin to feel the effects within 10 to 20 minutes of taking the drug. The effects start to wear off after about 45 to 90 minutes, and the user may feel drowsy for 2 to 12 hours after taking it.1

Effects include:1,7,8

  • Euphoria.
  • Lowered inhibitions.
  • Decreased anxiety.
  • Muscle relaxation.
  • Confusion.
  • Impaired memory.

Side effects include:1,7,8

  • Blurred vision.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Lowered heart rate and breathing.
  • Decreased body temperature.
  • Excited and aggressive behavior.

When combined with alcohol, GHB may cause nausea, trouble breathing, and greatly lowered heart rate and blood pressure.8


What are the Health Risks of GHB Abuse?

The main health risks of GHB are overdose and profoundly impaired consciousness. Both situations could potentially lead to significant bodily injury, victimization (e.g., date rape), and/or death.

When combined with alcohol, GHB can cause blackouts and memory loss. Victims lose consciousness and cannot remember what happened to them, which makes it difficult for them to seek justice against the perpetrator.1,2

It is possible to overdose on GHB. Overdose is always a risk with GHB since it is difficult for users to know the concentration of the dose.1

Symptoms of an overdose include:1

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Memory loss.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

There is no antidote for a GHB overdose.7 Treatment is supportive and generally includes keeping the person’s airway open and using assisted ventilation, if necessary.2


How Do I Get Help for Addiction to GHB?

While it can be difficult to overcome an addiction to sedatives like GHB, it can be effectively managed.11,12 There is not one type of facility or program that is suitable for everyone.11 Addiction treatment should address both your substance abuse and the various ways it has negatively impacted your life, including physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally.11,12

There are various types of treatment options available to address the wide range of needs that people experience.13 Programs typically provide an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to your unique needs. They often use a combination of different techniques to address your addiction and how it has affected you.13

These can include:11-13

  • Residential treatment, where you live at a facility, and receive care and/or support around the clock. This is a structured setting with counseling, support, and a strong emphasis on peer and social interactions.
  • Inpatient treatment typically involves a shorter stay at a facility—often around 4 weeks —with around-the-clock monitoring and care, intense group therapy, and individual counseling.
  • Outpatient treatment offers less intensive group and individual counseling while you live at home. This type of care allows you to work, attend school, and participate in daily life while learning how to adjust to stressors and receiving the support of peers and staff.
  • Behavioral therapy in a group, individual, and/or family settings is highly effective for treating addiction to hallucinogens, dissociative drugs, and other substances. These techniques can help you learn how to stay sober, improve your relationships with others, cope with stress in healthy ways, and participate in positive activities.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders, which addresses mental health disorders at the same time as a substance use disorder, is generally more effective than treating these issues separately. Therapy, medications, and other supportive services are commonly utilized in this type of treatment.

If you are seeking GHB treatment in the United States, you have a wide array of options including private rehab facilities, state-run treatment facilities, and local treatment programs.

Twelve-step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, non-12 step support programs such as SMART Recovery, as well as individual or group therapy with licensed addiction counselors, are some common forms of support that former substance abusers use.

Some people who have struggled with addiction find that they are not quite ready to return to their home environment and everyday lives after treatment. In these cases, sober living may be a good option. You live with other people who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in a supervised environment. Residents are encouraged to look for a job, volunteer, and attend 12-step meetings or other support groups.


Where Can I Learn More about Treating GHB Addiction?

For more information about GHB abuse and addiction treatment, you may want to reach out to your doctor. Or you can contact one of our admissions navigators at for the information and support you are looking for as you look for opioid addiction treatment.

There are various treatment programs and strategies available for GHB addiction, so don’t give up if the first program you check out doesn’t meet your individual needs. To learn more about opioid addiction treatment, click here.


Sources

  1. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). GHB.
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2002). GHB: A Club Drug to Watch. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory, 2(1).
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drug Abuse and Addiction.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Club Drugs (GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol).
  7. Herron, A. & Brennan, T. (2015). The ASAM Essentials of Addiction Medicine. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Commonly Abused Drugs Charts: GHB.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Club Drugs.
  10. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.) Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB, GBL, And 1,4-BD).
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). The National Institute on Drug Abuse media guide.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

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