Review of Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB) for the Treatment of Alcoholism

Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid, better known as simply GHB, is a sedative and anesthetic drug that was developed in the 1960’s.

GHB is currently a Schedule III substance because of its use in date rapes, but it has limited medical value as an anesthetic and has been used in the treatment of narcolepsy.

According to a review article published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, GHB may be effective in the treatment of alcoholism.

Alcohol Withdrawal

The authors of this review article found that the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal could be treated with GHB. One study found that the treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome with GHB was as effective as treatment with diazepam while another study found that it was even more effective. GHB was also found to be as effective as the sedative drug clomethiazole, which is commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal.

According to the authors, in all of the previous studies mentioned, no serious side-effects were reported.

Alcohol Abstinence

Along with treating the effects of alcohol withdrawal, GHB also appears to be effective in reducing cravings for alcohol. Numerous studies found that administering GHB to chronic alcoholics three to six times a day significantly increased abstinence from alcohol and reduced alcohol cravings.

In one study, treatment-resistant alcoholics, who were defined as “patients who have previously followed at least two attempts at treatment without achieving alcohol abstinence ,” were administered GHB and 60% of these patients achieved either total alcohol abstinence or partial abstinence.

The authors conclude their review article by emphasizing that “this drug represents a most useful tool for treating alcohol dependence.”


Caputo, F., Vignoli, T., Maremmani, I., Bernadi, M. & Zoli, G. (2009). Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) for treatment of alcohol dependence: a review. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol 6: 1917-1929.