January 2nd, 2024
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is a sedative that poses significant risks when abused. GHB has become infamous in recent years, not only for its dangerous potential for addiction but for its use in date rapes. Classified as a Class B drug in the UK, GHB is illegal to possess, supply or produce, with serious legal penalties for anyone who does. Despite this, there are still people who use GHB for recreation or self-medication, exposing themselves to the risk of addiction. While GHB addiction can cause major damage in every area of your life, it is important to understand that it is treatable with professional intervention, offering effective pathways to recovery.
What is GHB?
Initially synthesised in the 1960s, GHB is a central nervous system depressant that has been used medically for treating conditions like narcolepsy and aiding in childbirth. In its illicit form, GHB comes as a clear liquid, powder or capsule and is known for its salty taste. It is often abused for its ability to produce euphoria and sociability, but its narrow margin between the desired and toxic dose makes GHB abuse incredibly risky.
Scientifically, GHB acts on the GABA receptors in the brain, particularly the GABA-B receptors. When GHB binds to these receptors, it reduces the activity of nerve cells in the brain, which results in the sedative, euphoric and anxiety-reducing effects that GHB is known for.
GHB at a glance
GHB is also known as ‘Liquid Ecstasy’ and ‘G’.
GHB is known for causing amnesia, a property that has led to its use in sexual assaults.
It is colourless and odourless, making it easy to add to drinks without detection.
The drug’s effects kick in within 15 to 30 minutes and can last up to 6 hours.
The drug can be produced in home laboratories, making its strength and purity unpredictable.
Possession, distribution and production of GHB are punishable in the UK by up to fourteen years in prison.
Administering GHB to someone else without them knowing carries a ten-year prison sentence.
What is GHB addiction?
GHB addiction is a condition where you feel compelled to continue using the drug even though it is having obvious negative effects on your life. Understanding GHB addiction requires a look at how it develops, from initial use through to tolerance, dependence and psychological addiction.
While everyone’s journey to drug addiction is different, it will usually follow a path like this:
Initial use and experimentation
GHB addiction often starts with experimentation or infrequent casual use. Many people first try GHB at a party or in a club and find its euphoric effects pleasurable. This then leads to repeated use as you chase the next “high” and become more confident about the drug’s safety.
Increased use and tolerance
Over time, with regular use, the body starts to build a tolerance to GHB. This means that you need larger doses of GHB to achieve the same effects that smaller doses once provided. Tolerance is a key warning sign of potential addiction as it indicates that the body is becoming accustomed to the presence of GHB.
As tolerance builds, the body can become physically dependent on GHB, which means the body needs the drug to function. At this stage, you may find that you need to take GHB to feel ‘normal’ or to avoid GHB addiction withdrawal. This can be severe, with symptoms that include insomnia, anxiety, agitation, high blood pressure and, in extreme cases, seizures. GHB addiction withdrawal is incredibly dangerous and potentially even life-threatening, so it requires medical supervision.
Psychological GHB addiction
Psychological addiction to GHB is where you become fixated on obtaining and using the drug, experience GHB cravings when you’re not using it and find yourself unable to control or reduce the amount and frequency of use. You may spend a significant amount of time thinking about GHB, neglecting responsibilities like school or work and trying to convince yourself and others that you need GHB or that your use is under control.
GHB addiction symptoms and signs
Identifying addiction can be challenging, but there are several GHB addiction symptoms which can indicate a problem. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, look out for these signs:
- A constant and compulsive need to use GHB regularly
- Taking more and more GHB over time
- Trying but failing to cut down or quit GHB use
- Experiencing GHB addiction withdrawal symptoms
- Work, school and relationship problems due to GHB use
- Health issues caused by GHB
- Risky behaviour while under the influence of GHB
- Neglecting responsibilities because of GHB use
- Continuing to use GHB despite recognising the above issues
If you notice these GHB addiction symptoms in yourself or others, it is crucial to seek professional advice. While it is never too late to get help, the earlier you start the road to recovery, the better.
What can cause GHB addiction?
A range of factors influences the development of GHB addiction, each contributing in different ways to the addiction cycle. These can include:
Peer influence and social environment
Regular exposure to peers or environments where GHB use is normalised, such as certain party scenes or clubs, can significantly increase the likelihood of initial experimentation and subsequent regular use.
Mental health issues
People struggling with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety or PTSD may turn to GHB in an attempt to self-medicate. However, GHB can exacerbate the underlying condition over time, and this can lead to dependency as you begin to rely on GHB to manage your mental health.
Stress and trauma
GHB use can also begin as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, emotional pain from trauma or life’s challenges. As with self-medicating for mental health issues, this reliance on GHB as a coping strategy can develop into addiction as you become unable to manage stress without the drug.
History of substance abuse
A history of substance abuse, either personally or within the family, is a significant risk factor for GHB addiction. This history may indicate a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviours or could be reflective of learned behaviours from family, particularly as an impressionable child.
What are the side effects of GHB addiction?
In addition to the burden of constantly seeking, using and recovering from GHB, there are also various side effects of GHB addiction, which make it a particularly dangerous condition. These include:
- Mental health deterioration: Prolonged use of GHB can lead to the exacerbation of existing mental health issues or the development of new conditions such as depression or anxiety.
- Cognitive impairment: Chronic use can result in memory problems, impaired cognitive function and difficulty concentrating.
- Physical health risks: GHB can cause serious physical health issues, including respiratory depression, seizures and, in extreme cases, coma or death.
- Overdose: GHB is infamous for its very narrow therapeutic index, meaning the dose that causes desired effects is very close to the dose that can cause overdose, especially when mixed with other substances like alcohol. Overdose symptoms include nausea, drowsiness, seizures, respiratory depression and coma, and if you notice any of these in yourself or others, you should seek medical attention immediately.
- Dependency and GHB addiction withdrawal: Physical dependence on GHB can develop quickly, with withdrawal symptoms being severe and potentially even life-threatening.
- Social and relationship problems: GHB addiction can lead to strained relationships, social isolation and problems in personal and professional life.
- Occupational and academic decline: Those suffering from GHB addiction may experience decreased performance at work or school and a decline in overall success and productivity.
- Legal issues: Possession and use of GHB are illegal without a prescription in the UK, leading to potential legal consequences.
How is GHB addiction treated?
GHB addiction treatment typically involves a combination of drug detox, rehabilitation and aftercare support.
Detox is when you stop taking GHB and allow the body to flush it from your system. At UKAT, this is done under medical supervision due to the potential severity of GHB addiction withdrawal symptoms.
Our drug rehab programmes include various forms of therapy which address the underlying causes of addiction and a range of holistic treatments to build resilience and coping strategies. Aftercare is crucial for long-term recovery, providing ongoing support and helping prevent relapse.
Start your recovery journey today
If you or someone you know is struggling with GHB addiction, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. UKAT offers comprehensive treatment programmes that address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction and provide the tools and support necessary for long-term sobriety. Starting the journey to recovery can be challenging, but with the right help and support, it is possible to overcome GHB addiction and regain control of your life. Contact UKAT today to take the first and most important step.
Is GHB the same as GBL?
GHB and GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone) are closely related chemicals but differ. GBL is a precursor to GHB, meaning that the body converts GBL into GHB when ingested. While they have similar effects due to this conversion, GBL is typically more potent and has a faster onset of action than GHB. GBL is used in various industrial and household chemicals, so it is often easier to obtain and more difficult to regulate.
Is GHB available on prescription in the UK?
In the UK, GHB is available on prescription under the name Sodium Oxybate, specifically for the treatment of narcolepsy with cataplexy (a condition characterised by sudden muscle weakness or paralysis). It is not commonly prescribed and is usually considered after other failed treatments. Its use is highly controlled and monitored due to its potential for abuse and serious side effects.