Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, commonly known as GHB, is an illegal drug that has the potential for abuse and addition. GHB is a central nervous system depressant similar to alcohol, ketamine, and Rohypnol in its effects. It acts on certain receptors in the brain to produce sedative effects and a feeling of relaxation among its users. It can also be used to stimulate the production of human growth hormone in the body, making it popular among bodybuilders and other athletes. In addition to contributing to more muscle mass, athletes often use GHB to counteract the effects of any stimulants, like ephedrine, they may be taking in order to get a good night’s sleep.
GHB is particularly dangerous for individuals because of the low dose needed to produce effects. The potential for overdose is extremely high and often results in death. GHB users give the appearance of being drunk. Individuals will exhibit slurred speech and loss of motor control, resulting in trips and falls.
Chronic use of GHB leads to physical and mental dependence on the drug. Over time, a user’s tolerance to GHB increases. They will need to consume greater quantities of the drug in order to feel the same intoxicating effects and eventually may need GHB in order to function normally. When GHB is stopped abruptly, severe withdrawal symptoms will occur due to the body’s physical dependence on it.
GHB withdrawal symptoms are severe and prolonged. They are typically comparable to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but last longer. GHB withdrawal can last as long as ten to fourteen days. During this time, GHB withdrawal symptoms can include psychosis, hallucinations, seizures, delirium tremens, severe cravings, agitation, irritability, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and death. Seizures during GHB detox are of particular concern. Once seizure activity begins during withdrawal, they can be difficult to control. Individuals are often administered anti-seizure medications like benzodiazepines to stop seizures from occurring. If seizures become prolonged are not able to be controlled, brain injury and death can occur because of the physical toll the seizures take.
There are typically three stages of withdrawal individuals go through during GHB detox. The early stage occurs within one to twenty-four hours after the last usage. This early stage includes symptoms of insomnia, a fast heart rate, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, delirium, tremors, high blood pressure, and sweating. During the following one to six days, these early symptoms gradually worsen and peak. Finally, these symptoms begin to subside and become less intense while occurring episodically.
Regular users of GHB should never attempt to quit using the drug on their own. Like alcohol withdrawal, there is a high risk of injury or death associated with GHB detox. Individuals who are dependent on GHB should detox in an inpatient facility. During detox, the patient will be closely supervised and monitored to avoid life-threatening seizures and cardiovascular events. Medications may be administered during detox to avoid serious complication.
Although the physical symptoms of GHB withdrawal may subside after a couple of weeks, the psychological symptoms can be quite prolonged. These symptoms include an intense craving for the drug, anxiety, depression, insomnia and sometimes cognitive deficits. Memory loss can accompany GHB withdrawal. This amnesia can make treatment difficult because individuals do not remember the consequences of their addiction to the drug. During this phase of treatment, individuals will need supportive counseling and therapy in order to overcome their addiction to GHB.
The severity of withdrawal symptoms varies between individuals. Factors affecting withdrawal symptoms include how often GHB was consumed, how long it was consumed, if other drugs or alcohol were typically used along with it, and if there are any underlying mental health disorders.
GHB withdrawal can be a difficult process, but the addiction can be stopped. An inpatient facility trained in GHB detox can help individuals navigate the process safely and with support and compassion.