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Maybe because the hangover after a night of GHB clubbing isn't as severe as for alcohol, people underestimate the addictive dangers of the club drug GHB – but GHB, when taken to excess over a period of weeks, can cause a psychological and physical addiction, with a serious syndrome of withdrawals.

Heavy regular users of GHB will develop a tolerance to the intoxicating effects of the drug and will need to take more and more GHB to get the same high. The beginnings of tolerance are the beginnings of addiction, and an addiction to GHB can happen fast.

Casual users are not greatly at risk for addiction (although they are at risk for a potentially fatal overdose) but anyone taking the drug daily, or especially if consuming the drug more than once a day for a period of weeks, will likely develop a physical dependence on the drug.

GHB Dependence and Withdrawal

Once addicted, any attempt to stop using the drug will result in an almost immediate withdrawal symptoms (in as little as one hour). Symptoms of withdrawal will vary in intensity depending on the length and intensity of the GHB habit, but will last from between 5 and 15 days, and can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Tachycardia
  • Sweating
  • Psychosis
  • Bone and muscle pains
  • Tremor
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting

At least one patient is thought to have died from severe GHB withdrawals.

GHB in the Brain

GHB gets you high by influencing multiple systems in the brain (this accounts for the peculiar sensation of speeding and slowing simultaneously while high.)


GHB interacts with the GABA systems of the brain and this causes its sedative effects. The GABA system is the same as is affected by alcohol or benzodiazepines, and although the interactions with GHB are slightly different, the syndromes of withdrawal off of drugs like alcohol and GHB are quite similar - and dangerous.


GHB also interacts directly with dopamine systems in the brain and it is speculated that the intense and dangerous hallucinations experienced in severe withdrawals result from a distortion in these dopamine systems.

GHB Addiction

In addition to the development of a serious and possibly dangerous physical dependence, heavy GHB users will likely develop an addiction to the GHB high..

GHB detox and withdrawal may need to occur under medical supervision, and GHB addiction treatment should never end with the end of detox. Ideally, GHB addicts need to learn coping and relapse prevention strategies to have any real chance at maintaining recovery.

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Page last updated Aug 14, 2013

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