Often referred to as a “club drug,” GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate, is a depressant drug commonly abused for its euphoric and relaxing effects. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that GHB may be abused recreationally to produce a “high,” to increase sexual libido and sociability, or as a weight loss and muscle-building tool. Once sold as a diet supplement, GHB is commonly found in the club and rave scene. It also may be used as a “date rape drug” due to the suggestibility and memory loss the drug can induce.
GHB may commonly abused with other substances, such as alcohol, which can heighten its effects and increase the possible negative consequences of its use. Using GHB on a regular basis can cause a person to become physically dependent on it, which leads to significant withdrawal symptoms when the drug then wears off. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) publishes the following as side effects of GHB withdrawal that can begin within an hour or two after the last dose:
- Aggression and hostility
- Muscle cramps
The journal Drug and Alcohol Dependencewarns that GHB withdrawal can be potentially life-threatening. As such, detox should be performed in a specialized facility that can provide around-the-clock medical monitoring and management of the symptoms.
GHB is not a drug that should be stopped suddenly, without professional supervision. Medical detox is a form of detox that provides 24/7 care while GHB is processed out of the body, often with the help of medications. Medications like benzodiazepines can reduce and minimize the severity of GHB withdrawal, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports.
Detox, on average, lasts 5-7 days. Every person is different, and mitigating factors can influence both the severity and the duration of detox. Things like metabolism and other biological aspects, genetic predisposition to addiction, high amounts of stress or instances of trauma, and level of support at home can influence the withdrawal process. The person’s level of dependence on GHB is also a major contributing factor in how long detox will take.
The Effect of GHB Dependence on Detox Duration
Drug dependence forms when a person takes a drug regularly, and brain chemistry is altered as a result. The brain will “need” GHB to remain balanced when a dependence is in place. The longer a person takes GHB, and the more is taken at one time, the higher the level of drug dependence.
GHB is a depressant drug, and when it is mixed with other depressants like alcohol, its effects are amplified, and the risk and rate of dependence are heightened. Taking multiple depressant drugs at one time not only raises the risk for a fatal overdose, but can also produce a kind of cross-tolerance that exacerbates drug dependence to one or both substances.
The more dependent on GHB a person is, the more significant withdrawal symptoms may be, which can directly affect the detox timeline. Detox is considered an initial treatment that lasts about a week. Again, it is not safe to attempt to detox from GHB at home or without the help and supervision of a trained professional.
Detox is not a standalone treatment. It should be followed by admission into a comprehensive treatment program. Treatment for abuse and addiction involving GHB is highly variable and should be catered to the individual needs of the specific client.
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