Club drugs are considered to be any drugs that are commonly associated with the “club” scene. Dance clubs, nightclubs, parties, and raves tend to be hotbeds for drug and alcohol abuse among young people, including the use of some very dangerous substances. According the FBI, club drugs include:
- MDMA (ecstasy)
- Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
- Methamphetamine (meth)
- Rohypnol (roofies)
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid)
Each of these drugs is quite different from one another, but they are similar in their potential for abuse and health risks from both short-term and long-term use. All are considered to be highly addictive, with the exception of LSD, though that particular drug can be psychologically addictive. They are also all considered to be in the category of psychoactive drugs, which affect the central nervous system and cause changes in perception, awareness, and mood.
Ecstasy, for example, derives its name form the euphoria and feelings of joy and love typically experienced by those who take it. Methamphetamine is a stimulant that often makes users feel invincible and full of energy. Ketamine is classified as a dissociative drug due to the fact that it creates a detached, dreamlike state. At high doses, it can create what has been described as similar to a near-death experience. LSD is a hallucinogen, producing an altered sense of time and various visual hallucinations, though experiences vary widely between users.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of high school students who were surveyed in 2013, 4 percent had used ecstasy, 1 percent GHB, 0.9 percent meth, 1.4 percent ketamine, and 0.9 percent Rohypnol.
Some of these intoxicants are also used on people without their knowledge. GHB and Rohypnol in particular are often used as “date rape drugs.” The colorless and odorless tablets or powders can be slipped into an unguarded drink. The intense relaxation and interference with motor functions and memory leave the victim essentially helpless.
Signs of Abuse
Signs of drug abuse can vary from substance to substance. Stimulants like ecstasy and meth will have different effects on an individual who abuses them than hallucinogens and depressants like GHB and ketamine. There are some universal behaviors that can point to drug abuse, but it’s important to know the signs for each class of drug.
Along with these specific symptoms, club drugs are unique in the fact that they are associated with a particular activity. Regular attendance at nightclubs, wild parties, and/or raves is in and of itself a warning sign, as few get through these events without direct exposure and access to drugs. Rave events, sometimes simply called music festivals, are becoming more popular in the US. Attendance at the Electric Daisy Carnival, a popular music festival, increased by 39.1 percent from 2011 to 2012.
People who begin staying out late at night a lot, whether they admit to attending these parties or make up excuses, have high chances of abusing club drugs. This often comes along with a sudden change in social circles. Due to the unpredictable nature of these drugs, frequent abuse can result in missed appointments and neglected responsibilities, disappearances for hours or days at a time, and impulsive, sometimes dangerous, behaviors.
All of the drugs listed except LSD are also addictive. This means that after enough abuse of the substance, there is a good chance that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when the substance is no longer available. These include intense cravings and a wide range of very unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms. Individuals can be laid up for a week or more with nausea, headaches, fatigue, tremors, anxiety and/or depression, and more if they cannot take the drug anymore. This is when it’s clear that a serious problem has developed.
Each club drug comes with its own dangers. Some include the risk of overdose. Others are more likely to cause long-term health effects to both the body and brain. Of course, with any illegal substance, it can also be difficult to know if you are getting what you asked for, or if the drug has been mixed or even replaced with other potentially dangerous substances. It’s also common for club drugs to be mixed with alcohol or other drugs, which can compound the risk of overdose and health problems, and cause even more unpredictable effects.
GHB and Rohypnol, along with other depressants, are dangerous because of the fact that they slow essential bodily functions, such as the heart and respiratory system. Many overdoses have been caused by taking too much of a depressant or mixing depressants (which include alcohol), causing the respiratory system to slow to the point that the individual is not able to get enough oxygen to the brain and other tissues. This can cause brain damage within just a few minutes, or even lead to coma and death.
Additionally, intense depressants like Rohypnol can leave people half-asleep and barely able to move, leaving them completely vulnerable to those around them. This is why these substances have a reputation for being used to drug victims of sexual assault and rape. Over 75 percent of rape victims report being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of assault.
Stimulants like methamphetamine and MDMA can also cause a dangerous overdose if too much is taken or if they are mixed with other substances. Being on the other side of the drug spectrum, they tend to cause panic attacks, high blood pressure, and seizures. Rarely, a condition called hyperthermia occurs, in which body temperatures rise higher than they should, causing rapid muscle breakdown and kidney failure.
Those who already have heart conditions should avoid these drugs, as the increase in heart rate and blood pressure can cause heart failure. Dehydration can also be a serious concern, especially with ecstasy. With meth, the intense drive that the drug produces along with insomnia and loss of appetite can cause dramatic weight loss and quickly wear a person down. Overworked blood vessels can lead to heart failure or stroke.
Ketamine and LSD are simply unpredictable drugs that can cause sudden, intense agitation, panic, and erratic behavior. LSD users can experience “bad trips” in which they either see frightening images, are frightened or disturbed by whatever they do see, or have other terrifying sensations, like losing all sense of oneself or losing touch with reality altogether. Panic attacks, delirium, and psychosis can occur. This state can cause an individual to become agitated, aggressive, and even violent. There are reports of people hurting themselves or even dying from severe injuries due to vivid hallucinations and delusional beliefs, such as believing they are invincible or can fly off a roof.
Not all individuals who abuse drugs are addicted or will become addicted. Some may develop a psychological dependence, characterized by cravings and a general need for the drug to feel like they can make it through the day, but not a physical addiction. Others may develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning they need higher doses to get the same effect as before, leading to a physical addiction, but not be as psychologically attached to it.
The relationship an individual forms with a drug depends on many factors, including genetics, environment, and the type of drug being abused. However, both psychological and physical addiction are serious problems that require long-term treatment. Unfortunately, only about 18.5 percent of individuals who need treatment for addiction will gain access to it.
Addiction is considered to be a mental illness or disease. It’s not a weakness of character that can be willed away. Individuals who become addicted to club drugs may feel as though they deserve their suffering because they were “irresponsible” in the first place for going to nightclubs, raves, or parties. They may feel as though they have no impulse control, and that abstinence or moderation is impossible for them.
The truth is that, as an illness, addiction can be treated in anyone. Medical professionals will typically recommend detox, either at home or in a medical setting, depending on the severity of the addiction, followed by either inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. These programs are designed to teach individuals all they need to know about their illness, how to cope with cravings and temptations, and strategies to build a sober life.
Therapy, whether in an individual or group setting, is recommended, especially if the person has a co-occurring mental illness. Addiction and other mental illnesses often go hand in hand, and the underlying problem should be addressed so the person doesn’t turn back to intoxicants to cope.
Peer support groups, like 12-Step programs, are also common. Today, there are many varieties of these programs to choose from, both religious and secular in nature. Long-term attendance at support groups and therapy is highly recommended to keep the individual on track with sustained recovery.