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GHB Misuse and Addiction

Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is a depressant that medical professionals may use to treat narcolepsy.1 While GHB has legitimate medical purposes, people often misuse the drug for its anxiolytic (e.g., anti-anxiety) and sedative properties.2 GHB is primarily misused by teenagers and young adults at nightclubs and raves but has been increasingly involved in drug-facilitated sexual assault.2 GHB misuse can expose users to several risks, including overdose and addiction. This page will help you learn more about:

  • The addictiveness of GHB.
  • Signs of GHB addiction.
  • Treatment for GHB addiction.
  • How to find help.

Is GHB Addictive?

Yes, someone who repeatedly uses gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) can become addicted to the drug.1 Regular use of GHB can lead to tolerance, in which a person must take increasingly higher or more frequent doses of the drug to achieve the same effect.3 This can drive the development of physiological dependence, where the person’s body adapts to the presence of the drug and relies on it to function.3

Tolerance and dependence are not the same things as addiction. However, they are 2 of the criteria used to diagnose addiction in clinical settings.4 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic disease where a person continues to use a substance even though it results in negative health, occupational, or social consequences.4 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

What Is GHB Addiction?

In clinical settings, medical professionals use the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA’s) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD), or addiction. An individual must meet at least 2 criteria within a 12-month period to receive a formal diagnosis, which can range in severity from mild to severe.5 While only a qualified professional can diagnose a SUD, it can be helpful to know the criteria, which include:5

  • Using GHB in greater amounts or more often than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut back or stop GHB use despite a desire to do so.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of GHB.
  • Experiencing cravings, or an intense desire, to use GHB.
  • Being unable to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to GHB use.
  • Continuing to use GHB despite having social or interpersonal problems that are caused or worsened by your substance use.
  • Using GHB in situations where it is hazardous to do so (e.g., driving).
  • Using GHB despite knowing that you have a persistent physical or mental health problem that is likely due to GHB use.
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed to use GHB.
  • Developing tolerance, meaning you need to use more GHB to achieve previous effects.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using GHB.

These signs do not necessarily mean you or a loved one has a GHB addiction. However, these signs may alert you to the need for professional treatment.

Risks of GHB Misuse and Addiction

GHB misuse can result in several adverse health effects, some of which can be life-threatening. The potential adverse health effects of GHB misuse include:1

  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Lower body temperature.

More severe adverse health effects can include overdose, seizures, coma, and death.1 It can be difficult for users to know how much GHB they are taking, increasing the risk of overdose. GHB overdose symptoms include nausea, vomiting, slowed heart rate, and unconsciousness.6

Combining GHB and alcohol (e.g., polysubstance use) is particularly dangerous and can cause memory blackouts and respiratory depression, which can be fatal.1 Unfortunately, GHB is often used as a “date rape” drug because it can be easily added unknowingly to a person’s drink. GHB is hard to detect in drinks, and only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired effects, which is why GHB-involved instances of sexual assault are on the rise.6

In addition to the risks associated with GHB misuse, the effects of addiction can be far-reaching. People with addiction are more likely to experience:7

  • Financial trouble.
  • Relationship trouble.
  • Mental and physical health problems (e.g., cancer, lung disease, stroke).
  • Increased risk of infectious disease (e.g., HIV/AIDs).
  • Increased risk of accidents and injury.

How Do I Get Help for GHB Misuse and Addiction?

Overcoming an addiction to sedatives like GHB is difficult, but addiction can be effectively managed.8, 9 There is no one-type-fits-all treatment that is appropriate for everyone. Addiction treatment should address both your substance use and any other financial, legal, social, and vocational issues.8, 9

There are various treatment options available that range in duration, intensity, and setting. Programs typically provide an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs that involve a combination of different techniques.8, 9 Common treatment settings include:8, 9

  • Inpatient/residential treatment: You live at a facility and receive care, monitoring, and support around the clock. Inpatient treatment often has medical staff available, while residential treatment is less intensive and emphasizes peer support.
  • Outpatient treatment: You live at home but receive treatment during the day or evenings. This type of care allows you to keep up with responsibilities at home, school, or work. Outpatient treatment can vary in duration and intensity. While some outpatient treatment programs may simply offer drug education, others (e.g., partial-hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs) offer highly structured care, similar to inpatient treatment.

For many people, treatment may begin with detox so they can withdraw from GHB and other substances as comfortably and safely as possible before transitioning to treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.3 Following detox, behavioral therapy in a group, individual, or family setting is often used in inpatient and outpatient treatment. Behavioral therapy can help patients learn how to change their attitudes and behaviors related to their drug use while increasing healthy life skills.10 A person’s treatment plan may also include evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders, which can be beneficial if they have a mental health disorder, or another substance use disorder (SUD).8

Where Can I Learn More About Treating GHB Addiction?

If you are looking for GHB treatment in the U.S., you have several options, including private rehab facilities, state-run treatment facilities, and local treatment programs.

There are many ways you can find support, including:

  • Having an open conversation with your doctor or a mental health practitioner and getting a referral.
  • Using our rehabs directory which allows you to filter treatment options by location, treatment types, and accepted insurance.

If you’re ready to reach out for help for GHB addiction, contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) to learn more about GHB addiction treatment, resources, and support. Our helpline is available 24 hours a day when you call .

 

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