GHB Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with GHB addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding GHB Addiction

Learn about GHB addiction

GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, is a central nervous system depressant that most commonly appears as a powder or as an odorless and colorless liquid. When consumed, GHB brings about a sense of euphoria, along with lowered inhibitions and increased sex drive. Other effects can include memory loss, blackouts, drowsiness, and dizziness. Rapists and other predators have been known to secretly add GHB to alcoholic beverages or other drinks as a method of incapacitating possible victims.

GHB is grouped with MDMA/ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine, and rohypnol into a category known as club drugs. GHB and rohypnol are also frequently referred to as date rape drugs because they are capable of immobilizing victims and causing amnesia.

The medical uses for GHB are limited to treatment for narcolepsy and, in some rare instances, for those who are suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Those who habitually partake in the recreational abuse of GHB and other club drugs place themselves at risk for a number of negative social, emotional, mental, and physical outcomes. With effective professional care, however, these individuals can overcome their self-defeating behaviors and learn how to make the changes necessary to help them achieve long-term abstinence from GHB and other psychoactive substances for good.

Statistics

GHB addiction statistics

The abuse of GHB is most common among teenagers and young adults who are under 30 years of age. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one percent of high school seniors, 0.8 percent of high school sophomores, and 0.3 percent of eighth-graders have abused GHB at least one time.

Between the years 1995 and 2005, researchers identified 266 deaths (155 men and 71 women) that were caused by GHB intoxication. The deceased ranged from ages 15 to 55, with an average age of 27.9 years old.

Women between ages 16 and 24 are four times more likely to be unwillingly exposed to this substance. In those cases reported to include GHB and assault, 74% of perpetrators and 55 percent of victims had also consumed alcohol.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for GHB addiction

The chances that an individual will abuse or grow dependent upon GHB can be impacted by numerous environmental and genetic factors, including:

Genetic: Studies suggest that the children of addicted parents are eight times more likely to battle addiction at some point in their lives than children of parents who never abused alcohol or other substances. The genetic aspect of addiction has been reinforced by studies including adopted children and twins, as well as by technological advances that have offered more exceptional insights into the impact of specific genes.

Environmental: Individuals who are raised in homes where the abuse of GHB or other substances was occurring are likely to follow in similar behavioral patterns. Also, those who were abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized as children have a stronger vulnerability of abusing drugs. Attending raves, clubs, and other places where GHB abuse is common can be a powerful environmental influence as well. Associating with and/or being peer pressured into the use of this drug can also increase one’s likelihood of abusing it.

Risk Factors:

  • Participating in raves and similar events
  • Attending clubs where GHB is commonly abused
  • Being younger (GHB abusers are usually under age 30)
  • Socioeconomic status (GHB users are typically from middle-class and upper-class families)
  • Family history of substance abuse and/or mental illness
  • Personal history of prior substance abuse and/or mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of GHB addiction

The effects of GHB can begin to become noticeable within 20 minutes of consuming the substance, and they can last for hours. Below are some of the common signs that might indicate that an individual has participated in GHB abuse.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive perspiration
  • Heightened sexual arousal
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Tremors
  • Depressed respiration
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory problems, including blackouts and amnesia
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Decreased sense of anxiety
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Lowering of inhibitions
  • Profound relaxation

Effects

Effects of GHB addiction

GHB abuse can lead to many negative outcomes, including:

  • Academic failure
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Problems maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Diminished performance at work or school
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Diminished cognition
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Physical harm from trips, falls, and other accidents occurring while under the influence
  • Physical, social, and legal problems from risky and/or dangerous behaviors

Fortunately, there is treatment available for those who seek it, and it is possible to end one’s addiction to GHB once and for all.

Withdrawal

Signs, symptoms, and effects of GHB withdrawal

If an individual has become dependent on GHB, sudden cessation or abrupt reduction of the use of this drug might be accompanied by the presence of many uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

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

Overdose

Signs, symptoms, and effects of GHB overdose

Those who display the following symptoms of GHB overdose might be in need of immediate medical help:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Acute respiratory distress
  • Extreme confusion and disorientation

Co-Occurring Disorders

GHB addiction and co-occurring disorders

Common disorders that have been diagnosed in those who abuse GHB include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder