GHB Drug: Is it Addictive? – GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate, C4H803) is a substance best recognized in the media as a “date rape” or “club” drug. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant most commonly abused by teens and young adults at bars, clubs, parties, and raves. GHB is sometimes placed in alcoholic beverages, often when the drinker is unaware of its presence.
Of note, Xyrem (sodium oxybate, or sodium salt of gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a brand name prescription drug that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of narcolepsy. It is therefore tightly controlled drug in the U.S. and requires patient enrollment in a restricted access program.
GHB Drug Effects
The chemical gamma-hydroxybutyrate is produced naturally by the body when food is broken down in the stomach. When abused as a drug, euphoria, increased libido, and relaxation are some reported positive effects of GHB abuse. Adverse effects may include sweating, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, amnesia, and coma.
Some people report that in small doses, GHB has effects similar to those of stimulants. But as a depressant, and in a high enough dose, it produces a state of relaxation or drowsiness that can also result in impaired coordination, slurred speech, and unconsciousness. These effects are compounded when combined with alcohol and can onset within minutes, therefore making GHB popular as a “date-rape” drug.
There has been significant debate on the safety of recreational GHB use. Many users state that when used in small doses and not used in conjunction with other drugs, it is relatively safe and not addictive. However, recent reports from new studies have revealed that it is indeed addictive and discontinuation can produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Dangers of GHB Drug
Despite anecdotal evidence from users saying GHB is safe on its own, there have been reported cases of users experiencing overdose when the drug is repeatedly consumed in high doses. These symptoms include:
- Shallow breathing
- Blackouts and unconsciousness
How Is GHB Used as a Date Rape Drug?
GHB is commonly available as an odorless, colorless substance that may be mixed with alcohol and given to unsuspecting victims in preparation for a sexual assault. Victims become incapacitated due to GHB’s highly sedative effects and are thus unable to fight against a would-be attacker. GHB may also induce amnesia, and therefore result in the victim remembering little or nothing of the experience.
GHB can be purchased on the streets or over the Internet in liquid form or as a white powdered material for illegal use. Most of the GHB found on the streets or over the Internet is produced in illicit labs, and therefore less likely to be a product of prescription GHB drug diversion.
GHB Drug Addiction
Despite the claims of many users, GHB does have the potential for dependence and addiction. When someone starts using it for recreational purposes, eventually they may develop a tolerance and require a higher dose to feel the same level of the desired effects. Considering how potent this depressant is, however, even one extra dose can cause an overdose that may be life-threatening.
Because GHB is metabolized rapidly, if someone who is addicted skips even one dose, withdrawal symptoms can onset within just a few hours. Sweating, anxiety, panic attacks, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure are the first indicators that a person is experiencing GHB withdrawal.
These first symptoms will subside after 2-3 days, but if the person abused GHB in large doses for a prolonged time, they might encounter another stage of withdrawal that includes an altered mental state, sleep disturbances, and hallucinations. These symptoms can be very similar to delirium tremens, a life-threatening condition associated with long-term alcohol abuse that includes seizures, psychosis, and tremors or uncontrollable shaking.
As this stage subsides, cravings, mood changes, exhaustion, and anxiety may persist for a few days more.
Treatment for GHB Drug Addiction
Although it is improbable that a person will become addicted to GHB after one or two doses, repeated exposure can develop into dependence and result in withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. For this reason, persons abusing GHB should seek treatment as soon as possible.
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