GHB Abuse

Known as “G” on the street, GHB is a club drug used by young people in the United States and around the world. It is addictive and dangerous on many levels, but has been known predominately as the “date rape” drug, according the U.S. Justice Department.

How the Brain Reacts to Drugs

To understand how GHB works, specifically, it is important to understand how the brain works in relation to creating the sensations of pleasure and pain. The brain is made up of neurons. Each neuron has a neurotransmitter and receptor. Chemicals our bodies naturally create, like dopamine, are released from one neuron into the synapse, or the space between each neuron. Receptors located on neighboring neurons receive the transmission impulse and the appropriate signals are sent to nerve endings throughout the body.

In order to control the influx of these sensations, the brain also creates a compound known as GABA – a neurotransmitter that inhibits other neurotransmitters. When the brain has too much GABA, we experience mood changes. We might become drowsy and suffer from a decrease in our attention span, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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What Are the Immediate Effects of GHB?

Gama-hydroxybutyrate is a central nervous system depressant. It was originally created for the treatment of a sleep disorder called narcolepsy. This drug was so dangerous, even when it was originally conceived, that it is only approved for the treatment of this one condition. Patients who take the drug for this disorder are monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

GHB greatly affects the GABA receptors in the brain. This drug, along with other central nervous system depressants, significantly increases the amount of GABA produced, therefore causing a sleepy, drowsy feeling. While this is highly beneficial for someone suffering from a sleep disorder, taking too much of any CNS depressant can lead to dependency and addiction. In high enough doses, GHB can lead to coma, seizures and death.

Death is an especially great risk for the use of GHB, as well, because you won’t necessarily feel the euphoria of GHB right away. It can take long enough to become effective that you might think you haven’t taken enough. Taking another dose of the drug can cause a fatal overdose before you even realize you’ve made a mistake. Mixing CNS depressants, such as GHB and alcohol, can increase these risks, as well. Unfortunately, many individuals do mix drugs and alcohol when they are participating in recreational activities that include drug use. According to the most recent Drug Abuse Warning Network study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10.2 percent of the 2.1 million emergency department visits involving drug misuse and/or abuse in 2009 were the result of the use of an illicit drug and alcohol.
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Long-Term Effects

Understanding the long-term effects of using a drug is sometimes a deterrent to an individual’s desire to use that particular drug. But what if the long-term effects are not clearly understood? Sometimes, a person might think that means the drug is safe, when actually the opposite is true. In the case of GHB, the long-term effects aren’t really known. The drug is relatively new and therefore we are in a “wait and see” mode as to the actual health problems that might ensue over time.

According to the American Council for Drug Addiction, however, due to the mere fact that GHB is created from a host of industrial chemicals, one can expect to suffer from burns to the mouth, throat and stomach if the drugs ingested haven’t been properly made. If this happens, you can expect to have permanent scarring and other health problems related to the burns.
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Withdrawal Symptoms

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, GHB withdrawal is so severe that it often results in hospitalization in an intensive care unit. The symptoms of withdrawal for GHB are typical of other CNS depressants, but they can be more severe. A study reported by the University of Calgary to the National Institutes of Health indicated the following symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

Another effect of withdrawal from GHB includes a condition known as rhabdomyolysis. According to the National Institutes of Health, this condition is the result of damage to muscle tissues. When the fibers that make up our muscles break down, the contents of the muscles – a compound called myoglobin – is released into the blood stream. This substance is dangerous for the kidneys.

Generally, the condition is caused by an injury; however, several drugs including cocaine, alcohol, heroin and GHB can cause it, as well.
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What Are the Symptoms?

If you are the parent of a young person who is at risk of using or abusing club drugs, learning the symptoms of drug abuse can be of great importance. GHB is one of the more common club drugs, together with Rohypnol and ketamine. The most recent results of the Monitoring the Future survey – a study which interviews tens of thousands of school-aged children between the 8th and 12th grades annually – indicates that 1.4 percent of high school seniors have used GHB in the 12 months prior to the survey.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain identifiers that parents can use to gauge whether their child has a problem with drug abuse or addiction. These identifiers include:

  • Borrowing money on an increased basis. If your child often asks for money but has little or nothing to show in the way of purchases, it could indicate that the cash is being used to purchase drugs.
  • Missing items around the house. Have you discovered missing jewelry or other items of value around the house? Drug abuse is a powerful force that can lead individuals into behaviors they might not have otherwise considered, including stealing from loved ones to raise funds to support the addiction.
  • Drastic changes in mood and behavior. Has your outgoing, happy child become a recluse? Has your home-body become a social butterfly, but she won’t tell you where she’s going or whom she is keeping company with? These sudden behavior changes might indicate that your child has made new friends she might wish to keep secret, or she may be suffering from the effects of GHB as indicated by excessive drowsiness and the need for privacy to sleep.
  • Problems with friends and responsibilities at school. Falling grades can be an indication that your child is dealing with a wide variety of issues, including drug use and abuse. It might be a good idea to schedule a meeting with the school counselor to have a frank discussion with your child about what has changed in his life to warrant a lack of interest in his school activities.

For adults, the symptoms of abuse are much the same. A lack of interest in existing friends or hobbies, failure to perform duties related to family and career, and a sudden penchant for borrowing cash from friends and neighbors can indicate a growing drug problem.
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Taking the Time to Discover the Answers

Dealing with the situation of drug abuse can be difficult for everyone involved. The drug addict may feel embarrassed or ashamed. Parents, friends and spouses of addicts can feel helpless and overwhelmed. The good news is you don’t have to go through it alone. Here at Axis, we have the know-how and experience to help you and your family deal with the many intricate issues concerning GHB abuse. Drug addiction is a disease, but it is a treatable disease. Call us today and let us help you discover a pathway to health, wellness and life without GHB.

Further Reading