Updated on February 6, 2024
4 min read

What Is GHB And How Dangerous Is Its Abuse?

Key Takeaways

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant drug with effects similar to alcohol and other drugs. It’s often referred to as “liquid ecstasy” due to its potent effects.

GHB slows the activity in the CNS, producing a soothing effect. This creates feelings of relaxation and euphoria. 

Additionally, GHB can have amnesia-like side effects at higher doses. It can also cause significant toxicity if you don’t use it responsibly.

Is GHB Addictive?

Yes, GHB has a high abuse and addiction potential. It activates the CNS reward system, which causes a physical and psychological dependence on the drug.

It’s also a well-known “date rape” drug, so the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies GHB as a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that it has a high abuse potential and no medical uses.

GHB is not an FDA-approved prescription drug in the U.S. It’s considered an illegal drug.

Why Do People Abuse GHB?

Despite its dangerous nickname, "grievous bodily harm," users are drawn to GHB for various reasons. These include:

  • Fitness: They believe that GHB boosts muscle growth and exercise performance and reduces weight
  • Recreational: To experience its soothing effects, euphoria, and hallucinogenic properties
  • Sexual: People take GHB to increase libido, sexual pleasure, and suggestibility and to reduce inhibitions and shyness
  • Self-Medication: Some people use GHB to treat anxiety, depression, or insomnia

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What Are GHB Addiction Symptoms?

Addiction to GHB primarily involves using the drug without a prescription despite experiencing obvious negative consequences. You may also find it difficult to cease drug use despite having a strong desire to do so.

The symptoms of GHB addiction can manifest through physical, mental, behavioral, and social behavior. These include:

Physical Signs

Physical symptoms include developing tolerance and GHB withdrawal signs, which include:

  • Insomnia
  • Shaking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures

Mental Signs

Mental symptoms of GHB addiction include:

  • Obsessive or invasive thoughts about using the drug
  • Using the drug to deal with stress or mental illness symptoms
  • Mental illness symptoms from drug use, especially depression or anxiety

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral symptoms of GHB addiction include:

  • Taking the drug when your doctor hasn’t prescribed it or taking more than the ideal dose
  • Secrecy and solitude
  • Denial, lying, and concealing drug use
  • Use of other addictive substances
  • Neglecting responsibilities and usual life activities due to drug use
  • Participating in dangerous behaviors

Social Signs

Social symptoms of GHB addiction include:

  • Legal problems due to drug use
  • Relationship/marital difficulties
  • Financial difficulties due to reduced income from employment difficulties and the expense of obtaining the drug

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What are the Side Effects of GHB Abuse?

As a CNS depressant, GHB can cause respiratory suppression to the point where you stop breathing and die. This can occur even at relatively low doses. Other significant potential side effects of GHB include:

  • Seizures
  • Depression and suicidality
  • Sleepwalking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Blurred vision
  • Amnesia
  • Headache
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of bladder control

People who take the drug can feel its effects within 15 to 30 minutes. The duration of these effects ranges from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the dose and your physical characteristics.

What are the Risks of GHB Abuse?

The most severe risk of GHB abuse is death. However, GHB also poses the following risks:

  • Overdose
  • Loss of inhibition and risky behaviors
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Addiction
  • Withdrawal symptoms

GHB can also affect other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. This can lead to sedation, impairment, and overdose. If you or someone you know is experiencing a GHB overdose, contact emergency medical care immediately.

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What are GHB Addiction Treatment Options?

Recovery from substance abuse requires intensive treatment. Treatment for GHB addiction can involve pharmacological measures to help with the physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, they can use behavioral therapies to help with the mental illnesses that are co-occurring with the addiction. Treatment options for GHB addiction include:

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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