Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant that has gained popularity as a “club drug” that teenagers and young adults use at parties, concerts, and nightclubs for its euphoric and sedative effects. GHB is also sometimes categorized as a “date rape” drug as it can cause unconsciousness and amnesia, and often goes undetected after being placed in an alcoholic beverage 1.
GHB is typically abused for its euphoric effects, as well as for its ability to help people relax, decrease inhibitions, and increase libido 1,2,3. It is often combined with alcohol to intensify its effects. Though a pharmaceutical grade GHB (sodium oxybate) is considered Schedule III for limited prescription use, the illicit supply of GHB remains a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical purpose 1,3. Long-term GHB abuse can lead to the development of addiction, a progressive condition characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences. Chronic users have been known to ingest GHB every 2-4 hours for 24 hours a day, often for months or years2.
This article will discuss the following topics:
- GHB Addiction signs and symptoms.
- Treating GHB addiction.
- Cost of treatment and financing recovery.
- What causes addiction?
- Long-term effects of GHB addiction.
- Get help for GHB addiction.
GHB Addiction Signs and Symptoms
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of GHB addiction so you can detect problematic use in yourself or someone you love.
Chronic users of GHB can develop a tolerance to the drug, which means that they require increasing doses to experience desired effects. Persistent GHB use can also lead to physical dependence. Users who are dependent will feel as if they require GHB to function normally. Tolerance and dependence are two factors that contribute to the development of addiction. Someone who is addicted to GHB is unable to control their use and exhibits compulsive drug-seeking behaviors. Chronic users may find that they are unable to stop using GHB due to the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with GHB dependence.
There are many different signs and symptoms of GHB addiction—behavioral, physical, and psychological. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of GHB addiction so you can detect problematic use in yourself or someone you love.
If you or someone you know is addicted to GHB, the following behavioral symptoms may occur 4:
- Using larger doses of GHB or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Failing to cut back or quit using GHB.
- Spending a large amount of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of GHB.
- Having a strong urge to use GHB.
- Developing problems fulfilling role obligations at work, school, or home because of GHB use.
- Continuing to use GHB despite relationship or social problems that have been caused by or worsened by GHB use.
- Giving up important social, work, or leisure activities in favor of GHB use.
- Using GHB in physically dangerous situations, such as while driving.
- Ongoing use of GHB despite experiencing physical or psychological complications caused or exacerbated by GHB use.
- Engaging in secretive behaviors or lying about whereabouts.
- Decreased pleasure from typically rewarding activities, such as food, sex, or social activities 5.
Some physical and psychological signs to be on the lookout for include 2,3,6:
- Memory problems.
- Excited or aggressive behavior.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia.
Treating GHB Addiction
A GHB addiction is a very serious and dangerous problem. Because it varies in purity, every time you take GHB, you risk an accidental overdose, which could potentially result in death. Fortunately, GHB addiction is a treatable condition. It is possible to quit GHB on your own, however, an addiction treatment program can be very effective in helping you get sober. Addiction treatment programs have many benefits. It is never too late to participate in a rehab program and make a positive change in your life.
There are many benefits to recovery programs, including:
- Supervised detox.
- Medication-assisted treatment.
- Peer support.
- Structure and routine.
- Individual therapy.
- Group counseling.
- Access to around-the-clock medical care.
There are many different options for GHB treatment programs, all of which different people have found effective. It’s important that you find the one that best fits your individual needs and resources. Because many people are unable to tolerate the uncomfortable symptoms of GHB withdrawal, they find that an inpatient detox program is the best place to start.
Different treatment options include:
- Detoxification: Sometimes uses medications, such as benzodiazepines, sedatives, and antipsychotics to ease withdrawal symptoms.
- Inpatient treatment: Provides 24-hour structured treatment, detox-support, counseling, and medical care.
- Outpatient treatment: Includes a variety of programs involving behavioral counseling on both an individual and group level, while providing the patient with the freedom to live at home and fulfill work, home, or school obligations.
- Community-based treatment: This includes peer-to-peer programs like Narcotics Anonymous, as well as church groups and other support programs.
- Specialized treatment: Includes group counseling and peer-to-peer programs for specific populations, such as LGBT, teens, veterans, and women-only or men-only groups.
- Luxury treatment: Inpatient programs that provide upscale residential facilities, including extra amenities and services like swimming pools, massage, and gourmet meals, for a higher cost.
- Executive treatment: Inpatient programs that cater to working professionals, such as CEOs. These centers provide patients with private work rooms, internet access, and phones to continue working while receiving addiction treatment.
- Holistic treatment: Includes alternative practices like art therapy, yoga, acupuncture, or biofeedback.
Cost of Treatment and Financing Recovery
There are many different types of treatment programs for you to consider. Some treatment programs, such as luxury and executive treatment, can be quite costly without insurance (and even with insurance, which rarely covers the entire cost of such specialized programs). However, other treatment programs are generally much more affordable and may be partially or fully covered by your insurance carrier. Some factors that influence the price of treatment include:
- Location of the treatment program: More desirable places, such as the beach, may be more expensive.
- Duration of the treatment program: 90-day programs will cost more than 30-day programs.
- Type of treatment you choose: Inpatient programs tend to cost more than outpatient due to room and board, as well as 24-hour medical care.
- Insurance coverage: Every insurance plan is different, so it’s important to contact your provider to learn more about your coverage.
If you don’t have insurance, there are several ways you can finance your GHB addiction treatment. These payment options include:
- Payment plans: Many treatment centers allow patients to make smaller, monthly payments to pay off the cost of the program.
- Sliding scale: Treatment programs understand the financial hardships of addiction and many are willing to provide patients with a reduced cost based on income and budget.
- Friends and family: You can ask your friends and family members to lend or donate money to finance your treatment. Chances are, they’ll be willing to support your recovery.
- Crowdfunding: Websites such as GoFundMe or IndieGoGo, allow you to reach a large audience and receive donations to fund your treatment.
- Using savings, credit cards, or obtaining a loan: Although these may not be your first choice, nothing is more important than your health and recovery. Some companies offer healthcare credit cards and loans with lower interest rates.
What Causes Addiction?
There are many factors in life, including genetics, that can increase the risk of addiction
There is no single reason that people become addicted to GHB. There are many factors in life, including genetics, that can increase the risk of addiction. The presence of these contributing factors does not necessarily mean you are destined to develop an addiction. It is, however, helpful to be aware of these risk factors so that you can prevent addiction. Some risk factors and causes include the following:
- Environment: This includes a number of different influences such as family, friends, economic status, and your surrounding community. Poverty, drug availability, abuse, and a lack of parental access can increase the risk of substance abuse.
- Genetics: There is no single gene that causes addiction, but addiction does have an inherited component. This means that susceptibility to addiction is sometimes, but not always, passed down from parent to child.
- Mental health: Substance addiction often co-occurs with mental health disorders. Recent research has shown that roughly 45% of Americans who seek addiction treatment also have a comorbid mental health condition 7.
- Development: The earlier a person begins experimenting with drugs, the higher the risk of developing an addiction 5.
Long-term Effects of GHB Addiction
Substance use disorder, or drug addiction, is a very serious progressive condition. The longer you continue to abuse GHB, the worse your addiction will become. There is not a lot of scientific research about the long-term effects of GHB addiction, but clinical observations have shown that chronic abuse leads to increased tolerance and dependence.
When the brain and the body become dependent on GHB, suddenly reducing or eliminating the dose can cause withdrawal symptoms to arise.
Withdrawal symptoms can include 1,2,3:
- Severe anxiety.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Excessive sweating.
The long-term effects of drug abuse are not limited to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. People who have struggled with addiction for months and years have significant impairment and distress in their lives. Many aspects of their lives will begin to suffer. These long-term effects include:
- Losing personal relationships with friends and loved ones.
- Poor work or school performance.
- Getting into trouble with the law.
- Depression or other mental health problems.
- Having difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Financial hardships.
- Unsafe sex practices resulting in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies.
Get Help for a GHB Addiction Today
- Drug Enforcement Administration. Gamma-hydroxybutyric Acid. Office of Diversion Control. Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section.
- Couper F.J., Marinetti L. (2002). g-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) — Effects on human performance and behavior. Forensic Sci Rev 14:101.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: GHB.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Commonly Abused Drugs Charts: GHB.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral Health Treatments and Services.