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GHB Addiction Withdrawal

Hand holding vial of ghb liquid
GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a central nervous system depressant that is a popular drug among young club-goers.  A pharmaceutical version (Xyrem) is also used in the treatment of narcolepsy.1 It may be abused for its sedative and euphoric effects, and bodybuilders may use it because it can promote the release of growth hormones. 2 Repeated use can lead to dependence and addiction, and many people who abuse GHB also abuse other drugs or alcohol.

Regular use of GHB can lead to withdrawal. 1 Because GHB withdrawal can be dangerous, especially when the person has concurrently used alcohol or other drugs, people with an addiction to GHB should seek out treatment before they detox.

GHB Withdrawal Symptoms and Signs, and Detoxification

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When someone who is dependent on GHB stops taking the drug, he or she may experience withdrawal symptoms.

The most common withdrawal symptoms are tremors, insomnia, sweating, and anxiety.1 Delirium, hallucinations, seizures, and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue) have also been reported. 3 GHB withdrawal fatalities are rare, but have happened. 4

In general, the more frequently a person uses GHB, the stronger the physical dependence and the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Detoxification, the process of halting drug use and letting the body readapt to functioning without the drug, is often the first step in treatment for a physical addiction to GHB.

Withdrawing From GHB: Treatment Methods and Options for Help

Doctor consoles female patient withdrawing from ghb

Because withdrawing from GHB can result in severe withdrawal symptoms, medical supervision is typically advised during detoxification. 4 Hospitalization during withdrawal from GHB is common in cases of severe dependence, and most patients stay in the hospital for 7 to 14 days. 3,4 Other treatment options include detox centers, inpatient rehab programs, and outpatient programs, depending on how much GHB a person has been using.

Part of GHB withdrawal treatment may involve the use of other drugs that help curb the symptoms of withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are sometimes used, particularly to help sedate those exhibiting significant agitation or psychotic symptoms. 4 But because these drugs are also addictive, they should only be used under medical supervision.

Part of GHB withdrawal treatment may involve the use of other drugs that help curb the symptoms of withdrawal.

Anticonvulsants and antihypertensive medications are also sometimes used during GHB withdrawal treatment. 4 Since these drugs have little or no addictive profile, they are typically preferred over benzodiazepines. However, even though they are not addictive, these drugs should also only be used under the advisement and supervision of a trained medical professional.

Detoxing, Addiction Treatment, Rehab, and Recovery

Therapist writes plan for recovery for patient

To successfully recover from an addiction to GHB, a person needs to establish a long-term treatment plan. Treatment typically involves detoxification followed by a program that combines individual counseling, group counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

These therapies teach the person how to live a healthy lifestyle and resist relapsing into drug use again once detoxification is complete. They also give the recovering user the opportunity to uncover any unresolved emotional problems that they may be self-medicating with GHB and other drugs.

A residential inpatient rehab program can be highly effective in helping a recovering addict stay clean and sober. In this type of program, the person stays in the rehab facility for a period of time, often a few weeks or months, after detoxification is complete.

A residential inpatient rehab program can be highly effective in helping a recovering addict stay clean and sober.

Outpatient programs are another option that may be able to help some individuals recovering from GHB addiction. In these programs, users attend a facility part-time for group and individual therapy. Some people choose to complete the detoxification process in a hospital or clinic and then switch to outpatient services for the follow-up treatment.

One particular difficulty with GHB addiction recovery is that some people that have stopped taking the drug experience a form of amnesia that causes them to forget the dangers of the drug and relapse into using it. 4

People who are addicted to other drugs or alcohol in addition to GHB should also receive treatment for those other addictions at the same time.

Sources

[1]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Club Drugs (GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol).

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2004). NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin – Club Drugs.

[3]. Noorden, M., van Dongen, L., Zitman, F., and Vergouwen, T. (2009). Gamma-hydroxybutyrate withdrawal syndrome: dangerous but not well-known. General Hospital Psychiatry 31:394-396.

[4]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2002). GHB: A Club Drug to Watch. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory 2(1).

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