It is frequently used as a date rape drug due to its ability to completely sedate a user.
Even if you only occasionally use GHB, it is dangerous enough that you should stop. If you find you can’t stop using it on your own, seek help at a rehab facility.
The Draw of GHB
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous depressant that was once sold in health food stores. Now, it is widely recognized as a potentially dangerous drug.
People use it to get high due to its euphoric and sedative effects. It is commonly used at raves and other dance parties.
Despite one of its street names being liquid E, GHB is quite different than ecstasy. There is some overlap in their effects, but they are chemically distinct.
In low doses, the connection between the two drugs is easily seen. GHB, like ecstasy, can cause a user to feel a sense of euphoria, decreased inhibitions, and excitedness. It can also potentially cause aggression and hallucinations.
At higher doses, the effects of GHB become more intense, with more unwanted side effects. Negative side effects of GHB include the following:
- Impaired memory
- Dizziness or loss of coordination
- Extensive muscle relaxation
- Decreased heart rate
- Slow breathing rate
The euphoria and lowered sense of anxiety caused by GHB can continually draw people to it. With repeated use, it can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
A GHB overdose can be life-threatening due to cessation of breathing. This usually happens if a person is so sedated that choke on their own vomit or if they roll into a pillow or bed, in a position where they are unable to breathe.
The following are symptoms of GHB overdose:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing)
These symptoms tend to be worse when a person is under the effects of alcohol, which also depresses breathing. If you or someone you know may be overdosing on GHB, call 911 right away.
Treatment for GHB overdose is supportive, as there is no medication antidote. The person’s stomach may be pumped, and IV fluids may be given. It’s common for people to be put on a ventilator to protect their airway and ensure they continue breathing until the GHB is fully processed out of the body.
Risks of Long-Term Use
The effects of long-term use of GHB aren’t fully understood. When researched, the drug is often looked at in terms of its short-term use and as a date rape drug. Other aspects of the drug haven’t been as fully studied.
Addiction is a risk with long-term use. It is known that GHB can be addictive and comes with difficult withdrawal symptoms after chronic use.
GHB is sold illicitly with inconsistent concentrations. A batch may be cut with cheaper, more dangerous drugs. Since there is no quality control, you don’t truly know what you are taking if you buy the drug on the street. This can lead to various medical issues.
Every time you use GHB, there is a risk that something can go wrong. The longer you use the drug, the more likely it is that you’ll experience an overdose or other complications.
Is GHB Addictive?
GHB can cause intense cravings (psychological addiction) and pretty severe physical withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly try to quit after a period of sustained use (physical dependence). Withdrawal symptoms vary but include the following:
- Severe anxiety
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
In at least one case, a patient developed severe physical withdrawal symptoms when ceasing GHB after only seven days of use. That said, the level of severity in that case was unusual, with it usually taking more chronic use for withdrawal to get that bad.
The major downside of potentially severe withdrawal symptoms is they make quitting the drug much harder. Because of the nature of GHB withdrawal, it is likely most people trying to quit even after only a few weeks of chronic use will need some kind of help. If they attempt to detox on their own, relapse is likely.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers several tools for finding rehab help, including a tool to find the nearest treatment center.
Recognizing Symptoms of GHB Use & Staying Safe
GHB is a colorless, odorless liquid or powder generally taken in another liquid (often alcohol). While it is sometimes described as having a slightly salty taste, GHB can be difficult to detect.
This is why it is commonly used as a date rape drug. It can be slipped into drinks virtually without detection. Victims may not realize anything is wrong until they wake up and don’t recall what happened for the prior several hours.
If you begin to feel at all disoriented or confused after taking a drink, especially if you feel stranger than would make sense for drinking at the rate you were, alert someone nearby. If you are able to alert someone before you pass out, they can assist you and potentially prevent you from being the victim of sexual assault.
Even if you intentionally take GHB, be careful whom you do the drug around. In some places, it is considered rape to have sex with someone who is on drugs, even if they gave prior consent before getting high.
The person at fault for date rape is always the rapist, but it is wise to adopt safe practices if you intend to use illicit drugs or go to parties where there will be people you don’t know you can trust. If you believe you have been sexually assaulted or are not sure, help is available.
If someone seems to be acting strangely, continually check if they are okay. Don’t allow them to walk away with someone you don’t know. Date rapists will commonly try to isolate a victim once they are drugged and confused.
Treatment for GHB Abuse
If you abuse GHB recreationally, it can lead to issues in virtually all areas of life. Regular use despite issues in life is a sign of a problem.
If you are unable to stop abusing GHB on your own, help is available. Comprehensive addiction treatment is recommended to address underlying issues that led to chronic substance abuse.
An ideal treatment program begins with medical detox, to ensure GHB and any other substances of abuse are safely processed by the body. In a detox program, you’ll be supervised during this process to ensure your safety. You may be prescribed medications and other medical care to support the process. You’ll also receive psychological support to help you through and prevent relapse.
While withdrawal is an important component of the recovery process, it isn’t sufficient on its own. It must be followed by therapy.
In therapy, you’ll identify triggers that lead you to use GHB and other drugs, and you’ll develop methods to manage these triggers so you don’t turn to substance abuse.
Toward the end of the program, you’ll begin creating an aftercare plan that can support you as you transition into ongoing recovery. You’ll work with your treatment team to ensure you have a solid support network in place.