GHB Addiction Help & Treatment
While you might not have heard of it, GHB is a drug associated with some of the most heinous crimes in the UK in recent years. It’s a drug that lowers inhibitions in users, but also in those who spike others who have used it to commit robbery, sexual assault, rape, and even murder.
There were “120 deaths in England and Wales between 2014 and 2018“ linked to GHB. What’s important to note is that the figures are actually likely to be much higher.
Unfortunately, GHB isn’t routinely tested for in hospitals when people are intoxicated.
As one of the increasingly used club drugs that only require a small quantity to be fatal, as well as being incredibly dangerous when mixed with alcohol, more education and awareness about GHB is vital.
If you or someone you love is addicted to GHB, there are places you can go for help and treatment.
How to get Help for GHB Addiction
It’s really important to learn about what your treatment options are for GHB addiction and dependency. This substance has severely damaging effects on mental health and has serious physiological implications, especially during withdrawal.
The Rehab Recovery team are also at the end of the phone or live chat box to discuss your recovery options.
What is GHB?
GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate acid, is reported to be an industrial cleaning product in some places and in others is said to have been developed as an anaesthetic agent in the 1960s.
Users tend to buy this illegal drug online and from street dealers, some people get it through dating apps (which is well-known on the gay scene).
GHB comes in powder form, whereas GBL is a transparent oily liquid. It’s an incredibly addictive substance that’s hugely popular on the rave scene in the Netherlands and Ibiza, and is spreading in use throughout Europe.
It’s also popular at sex parties and on the gay chemsex scene.
It’s a “date rape” drug particularly known for its sedative effects. In 2022, it was reclassified from a class C to class B drug in the UK.
This was after sickening rape cases of Reynhard Sinaga who raped and sexually assaulted over 40 men and Stephen Port who raped and killed four men.
As a class B drug, possession of it holds up to a five-year prison sentence and supply or production up to fourteen years.
The effects of GHB
It takes around 5-25 minutes for the effects of GHB to kick in and they can last around 2-4 hours.
Side effects include:
- Euphoric effects
- Increased sex drive and arousal
- Audio effect (i.e. “music sounds better”)
- Being a relaxant
- Visual distortion
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
Long-term effects of regular GHB use
This can be overwhelming for users which can, of course, cause a person to return to it to try and manage the anxiety.
This has the knock-on effect of leading people to experience depression and suicidal ideation and behaviours.
The dangers of GHB
Unfortunately, unlike with other drugs, there isn’t much education or widely known impact and awareness of GHB. This can make people more curious (as they haven’t heard of the dangers) and can also lead to overdose.
While local drug projects provide harm reduction advice around oral doses, it is incredibly risky to use. Some people might use 0.5-1ml as a starting dose, whereas dependent users who rely on it every day might take 10ml in a day.
Due to it being colourless and odourless, it’s easy to disguise and is why it’s often been used by criminals as a date rape drug.
As well as leading users to behave “out of character” it can lead to feral sexual behaviour. GHB comas are “associated with microstructural alterations in white matter” linked to impulse control. With this, of course, there is an increased risk of STIs (users are advised to carry and use condoms).
GHB can result in a loss of:
- Cognitive functioning
- Physical control
It leads people to a sleep or coma, known as “G sleep” or “going under”, or black-out.
There’s a massive risk of overdose with GHB because of how strong it is and how little is needed to cause one. In fact, it’s reported to be the “fourth most common drug-related overdose” in Europe.
Another reason for overdose being a significant risk when GHB is used is because it’s a depressant.
Vice reported that a millilitre too much can lead to coma or death.
GHB addiction and dependency
GHB affects brain activity. It alters the levels of GABA amino acid in the brain (much like alcohol does) causing a person to feel drowsy and relaxed, it also impacts oxytocin levels (oxytocin is known as the “love chemical”).
When a psychoactive substance makes a person feel good, they might return to using it again. If they keep repeating this behaviour it changes the neural pathways in the brain and, indeed, brain structure causing thoughts to become obsessive, decision-making to become impaired, and behaviours to become compulsive. This is how addiction forms.
When a person’s GABA levels are impacted by GHB, they might feel desired effects while under the influence, but the “comedown” or withdrawal can be particularly unpleasant because all the natural GABA stores have been depleted. In people who are dependent, this can lead to seizures.
Symptoms of withdrawal in GHB users
There are various withdrawal symptoms linked to GHB use that are both psychological and physical. For people who are suffering from this type of substance abuse, it can be particularly distressing to live with and one of the reasons they keep retuning to GHB.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Anxiety and paranoia, feeling “unsafe”
- Low mood and depressive effects
- Delirium, psychosis and hallucinations
Signs you’re addicted to GHB
There are signs to take note of that will reveal for sure that you have problematic, addictive, or dependent use of GHB:
- Taking more and more GHB
- Taking GHB more often
- Repeatedly trying to stop using GHB, but not being able to
- Participating in risky and dangerous behaviours (i.e. sex without protection, working or driving under the influence)
- Experiencing severe cravings or withdrawal
- Friends and family worrying about you
- Becoming more isolated; life becoming focused on GHB
It can be overwhelming coming to the realisation that you have an addiction. Many people experience shame and guilt and others feel completely overwhelmed by what to do next.
All these feelings are normal. It’s important to find a space of self-compassion.
Addiction is an illness that is very much controlled by changes in the brain and body that the GHB caused. It takes various approaches (medical, physical health, psychological, holistic, and social) to tackle.
It is possible to treat GHB addiction. It is possible for you to recover and heal, but it will take input from others and commitment on your part.
Help and Treatment for GHB Addiction
NHS services offer recovery support for GHB users
There are outpatient rehab services provided by the NHS. These are available – free – to anyone in the community who has problematic or addictive use of GHB.
You would be assigned a caseworker who would assess your needs and provide advice around harm reduction. As well as this, you’d be given a timetable of weekly group sessions aimed at reducing substance use.
There are both drop-in clinics and needle exchanges. Your caseworker might also offer some one-to-one support sessions although availability tends to be stretched.
NHS services tend to be more useful for people who have mild substance use issues and those who aren’t actively “ready to quit” but require support.
Private rehab options for GHB users
For people with moderate to severe GHB addiction, inpatient treatment at a residential rehab where you get an individualised treatment plan matched to your needs is the most effective option.
There are various therapies and treatments that make up a resident’s programme and that occur throughout the structured day, including;
- Cognitive behavioural therapy is especially useful in treating people who have addictions. It focuses on giving people the skills to change their behaviours through understanding better how their brains and thoughts are working.
- Counselling offers a space for people to talk about their troubles, to identify problems and solutions. It offers a space to reduce loneliness and make sense of life.
- Holistic therapy is offered through a range of activities including equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, yoga, ear acupuncture, reiki, and mindfulness.
- Family therapy is offered when family dynamics and relationships have broken down and positive communication needs to be introduced.
For people who have mental health issues, the staff will make adjustments to your programme. It’s useful for conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and schizophrenia to be addressed during treatment as well as this provides a better basis for recovery.
What is a GHB detox?
A detox is the period of time you need to rid the body of substances, get through the worst of early withdrawal symptoms, and take essential vitamins and minerals.
In relation to GHB, residents are assessed by the in-house doctor who will prescribe the appropriate medication:
- Benzodiazepines might be prescribed to reduce anxiety. However, due to how addictive they are, this is at the doctor’s discretion.
- Antidepressants might be administered to alleviate symptoms linked to depression and anxiety.
In relation to severe physical symptoms;
- Anticonvulsants would be prescribed to prevent seizures.
The admission process for a GHB rehab stay
If you’re thinking of going to rehab, it’s useful to know what happens. You can contact Rehab Recovery for support in finding the right rehab for you.
When speaking with a member of our team, we’ll ask you a few questions to understand your addiction and your circumstances better.
With this knowledge, we can then advise you on the most suitable rehab clinic and support you through the referral process up to rehab admission.
How addictive is GHB?
GHB is highly addictive causing both psychological addiction and physical dependency. It’s incredibly strong and users easily build up a tolerance meaning they require larger doses to feel an effect.
Does GHB have long-term effects?
Yes, GHB has serious long-term effects including cognitive impairment to memory, IQ, decision-making, and impulse control. It also leads to severe anxiety, paranoia, depression, and suicidal ideation. More research, however, needs to be done to understand physical effects.
What part of the brain does GHB damage?
GHB damages the grey matter in the brain, especially in the areas of the orbital-frontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal gyrus, and insula. Grey matter is involved with movement, emotions, and memory. It also affects white matter which is associated with impulse control.
How do I know my addiction is bad enough for treatment?
If you’re thinking about and/or using GHB regularly, feel like you need it to face the day, are getting involved with risky behaviours, and if you’re being secretive about use or people are worried about you, then you would benefit from addiction treatment.
How successful is holistic addiction treatment?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much scientific research to support the effectiveness of holistic treatments. Scientific focus is usually aimed at psychological therapies. There are, however, many personal anecdotes of how beneficial holistic therapies are in conjunction with other approaches. Some people prefer the holistic to traditional therapies.