GHB clears the body relatively quickly, but regular use can result in physical dependence. If a person then stops taking the drug, they will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The withdrawal timeline depends on the severity of the dependence. For most people, withdrawal will take a couple days. For those who have been abusing high doses of the drug for a long time, it may take two weeks.
What is GHB?
GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is a Schedule I drug that elicits euphoric and sedative feelings in the user for about two to five hours on average. These properties have made it commonly used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults (DFSA).
Whether an individual has knowingly or unknowingly used GHB, overdose can occur. It is imperative to understand what the symptoms look like and seek help immediately.
Who Does GHB Affect?
Following the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s designation of GHB as a Schedule I drug, the use of GHB for recreational purposes has significantly decreased. It is still abused, however.
GHB is not a widespread drug of abuse. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 1,401 people had used the drug at some point in life.
There is a prevalence of GHB use among gay men, as well as bodybuilders. It’s used by gay men as a party drug at raves, clubs, or other all-night parties for its euphoric effects. Bodybuilders may use it for its performance-enhancing abilities; however, it was used more for this purpose in the 1980s and 1990s.
GHB is able to dissolve easily into liquids and can be discreetly snuck into unknowing victims’ drinks. Due to sedative effects following ingestion, GHB is often the drug of choice for crimes involving sexual assault. When combined with alcohol, the sedative effects are increased.
Others Who May Seek the Euphoria Associated with GHB Include:
- Individuals suffering from depression.
- Athletes seeking weight loss or increased muscle mass.
- People with chronic pain disorders.
- Those previously treated for narcolepsy or insomnia.
GHB is also used by individuals to help with the “comedown” from other drugs.
Effects of GHB
GHB can cause the following symptoms:
- Unpredictable and excited behavior
- Reduced anxiety
- Memory impairment
- Decreased heart and respiratory rates
- Nausea and vomiting
What Does the Withdrawal Process Look Like?
GHB clears the body relatively quickly. Its half-life is only 30 to 60 minutes, so it is often undetectable in the body 24 hours after use.
It can result in physical dependence with long-term use, however. This means withdrawal will occur when the person attempts to stop taking the drug.
Symptoms will vary in severity and duration, depending on how much and how often a person was using the drug. Here is a general outline of the timeline that can be expected:
DAY 1: 1-24 HOURS
- Intermittent tachycardia (increased heart rate)
- Hypertension and sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Potential for seizures
DAYS 1–6: PEAK SYMPTOMS
- Severe anxiety and restlessness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Moderate sweating and tremors
DAYS 7-14: CONTINUED SYMPTOMS
- Moderate anxiety, insomnia, and hallucinations
- Intermittent episodes of delirium and confusion
- Mild sweating, nausea, and vomiting
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to ease the effects of the withdrawal process.
How Can Withdrawal Symptoms be Alleviated?
GHB should never be discontinued suddenly without medical supervision, as the symptoms that arise may be life-threatening.
The preferred method of withdrawal is medical detox. These programs give clients access to licensed medical professionals 24 hours a day.
This ensures safety during withdrawal and reduces the likelihood of relapse. If a person attempts to withdraw on their own, it is likely that they will simply return to GHB use when withdrawal gets highly uncomfortable.
Medical detox programs generally stem from a biomedical perspective and combine therapy with a medication regimen. Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) to help with anxiety and baclofen (a muscle relaxant) may be prescribed to calm the individual during withdrawal. These medications can help to stabilize the person, and the supervising doctor will usually wean the individual off them slowly.
In addition to medications and therapy, certain practices are recommended to support the withdrawal process.
ENGAGE IN GENTLE EXERCISE
Endorphins released during exercise encourage healthy sleep patterns and can help to restore chemical balance and mental stability. Moreover, studies show that exercise minimizes the likelihood of cravings and relapse.
EAT A NUTRITIOUS DIET
Just as drugs have a direct result on the mind, food does as well. Studies have confirmed that people active in recovery were deficient in either iron or vitamins A, C, D, or E. A healthy diet ensures that essential proteins and nutrients are restored to the body. This can help to reduce cravings.
Withdrawal is characteristically accompanied by dehydration, which is often mistaken for cravings. Staying hydrated can help to alleviate these issues and promote overall wellness.
JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP
Having a support system keeps individuals struggling with addiction accountable to others. Many members are on the same path to rehabilitation and can offer helpful tips and advice to minimize the chances of relapse.
TRY ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS
Massage therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture have all proven helpful in various aspects of detoxification.
Muscle manipulation and massage relieves tension and therefore stress.
Acupuncture restores balance by placing needles in different areas of the body to stimulate blood flow and circulation. In 1972, Dr. H. L. Wen discovered that auricular acupuncture, or acupuncture of the ear, relieved his surgical patient of his opium withdrawal symptoms and cravings. By 1974, auricular acupuncture was used in treatment for addiction recovery and detox at the clinic in New York’s South Bronx Lincoln Memorial Hospital.
To increase the odds of successful detoxification, these methods are often used in conjunction with traditional methods and recovery programs. They should not replace traditional treatment; they should only be used as complementary treatments.
STRETCH, MEDITATE, AND CONSIDER YOGA
One of the oldest and simplest methods of support can be done anywhere at any time. Yoga and stretching stimulate blood flow, improve circulation, encourage mental stability, and can relieve muscle pain and tension.
Breathing techniques by way of mindfulness and meditation have proven to align the spirit, mind, body, and soul more closely. This can help to reduce anxiety, physical pain, and depression. In addiction treatment, meditation is often used to help control cravings and promote well-being.
PARTICIPATE IN THERAPY
Talk therapy is imperative to any recovery or rehabilitation effort. While withdrawal begins the recovery process, therapy is the backbone.
Individuals struggling with addiction have the opportunity to discuss their impulses to use GHB and identify healthy alternatives to rely on in the future.
Stress is often a trigger for substance use. By avoiding stressful situations, you can lessen the likelihood of relapse. Identify what triggers stress in your life in therapy sessions and devise ways to mitigate these situations.
The Importance of Help
Again, GHB withdrawal can produce serious symptoms in some cases. It’s important to get professional help with the process, particularly if GHB has been abused for a long time or at high doses.
Even if you think you can withdraw from GHB on your own, first consult with a physician to ensure safety throughout the process. If any life-threatening symptoms occur, prompt medical care is needed.
Withdrawal is not enough on its own to address addiction. The issues related to substance abuse need to be treated in therapy. Comprehensive addiction treatment should include both medical detox and therapy.