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Party Drugs: Club Drugs Addiction, Abuse, And Treatment Options

Last Updated: June 9, 2022

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Club drugs and raves are considered illicit drugs. Also known as party or recreational drugs, they have a worldwide history of going hand-in-hand. Some would argue that these substances have long since become a key component of the club partying culture. It creates numerous misconceptions and delusions about the safety of party drugs, making many people more inclined to try them when they get a chance. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the lifetime use of any single club drug lies at 15% or below. In the same report, the prevalence rate of ecstasy, LSD, and cocaine use is 14.8%, 14%, and 15%, respectively. Because of these statistics, it is essential to understand that the culture of using club substances poses invisible at first but significant health, social, and legal risks over time.

What Are Club Drugs?

Party drugs is an umbrella term for the list of club drugs or recreational substances that are commonly used at clubs, raves, and parties. As a separate group, club substances first gained popularity in the 1970s. At that time, stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines were frequently used to help the users stay up and dance all night. In the 1980s, people began actively using psychoactive substances to enhance the emotional experience at concerts and raves.

Regarding legality, the distribution and possession of the majority of common rave substances can lead to severe penalties and incarceration if a person is caught. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, different party substances belong to different drug schedules. Ecstasy and LSD are classified as Schedule I substances while Methamphetamine and Ketamine are Schedule II and III substances, respectively. Penalties vary greatly depending on the type and amount of the substance, as well as whether the offender kept it for personal use or sale.

Types Of Club Drugs

While nightclub drugs do not always share drug classes and properties, the main two types of substances used at parties are Stimulants and CNS depressants. Ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines lift the mood, make a person feel more energetic and sociable, while benzodiazepines and other depressants are favored for their sedating properties. They are most often used to facilitate sexual assault since a person who ingests them is less capable of resisting and remembering the event. However, commonly used club substances usually refer to synthesized substances rather than those derived from plants. It means that while marijuana and opioids such as heroin are sometimes encountered at parties, they can hardly be classified as common club substances.

The examples of club drugs that are most commonly used are as follows:

  • Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a popular psychoactive substance with psychedelic qualities that people use recreationally. It can increase energy and alter the sensations from the music and lighting at a party, as well as produce euphoria.
  • GHB, also known as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, is a CNS depressant that is used to treat narcolepsy and alcohol use disorders. It is used recreationally for its psychoactive properties. GHB can cause euphoria, significantly increase sociability, and enhance libido.
  • Ketamine is well-known for its propensity to cause a dissociative state. It is still one of the most widely used club substances and produces a sense of detachment from one’s body or identity, as well as from the external world. It also causes changes in perception of time and sometimes produces hallucinations.
  • Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine medication with powerful sedating properties. This club drug’s street names are Roofie Drugs, Mexican Valium, and Forget-me pill. At parties, the substance is most frequently used as a “date rape” drug to commit sexual assault and prevent the victim from remembering it and pressing charges.
  • LSD is one of the most common party substances. It is a hallucinogenic substance that results in altered thoughts and feelings, hallucinations, increased body temperature, and potential out-of-body experiences. The use of LSD can lead to the development of paranoia, persistent flashbacks, and other psychiatric disorders.
  • Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant that is frequently used at parties. It causes hyperactivity, increases alertness and energy, and improves sociability and confidence. At clubs, it is also used as an aphrodisiac.

None from the list of club drugs above should be used recreationally. Recreational use equals abuse and is illegal. Due to the popular belief about the innocence of these substances, many people do not understand why club substances are dangerous. As it is with any psychoactive substance, there are legal, social, and health outcomes of nightclub drug use.

A woman takes some club drugs.

Club Drugs Effects: Risks Associated With Party Drugs

Substances consumed at parties have numerous side effects that can have severe manifestations. However, there are other aspects of club drugs abuse that are no less dangerous. For instance, the use of club substances, particularly methamphetamine, significantly increases the possibility of engaging in unsafe sex. Based on one report of healthcare professionals from New York City, methamphetamine is mostly used by men who have sex with men, and lifetime use was reported to be 21.5%.

Moreover, there is also an increased risk of suffering from the effects of various dangerous interactions. The number and variety of consumed party substances also present an issue if a person requires emergency medical help. It is almost impossible to identify what substances were consumed and in what quantity. As a result, acute treatment of rave drug overdose is difficult.

Examples of club drugs and their effects will be discussed in the information below:

  • Ecstasy has a half-life of around 8-9 hours and its effects last in the system for around 40 hours. Based on a study of a psychologist from Massachusetts, some of the acute effects of this substance include depersonalization, perceptual disturbances, nausea, headache, tachycardia, agitation, dry mouth, bruxism (teeth-clenching), and trismus or lockjaw. Furthermore, in the same study, these effects are reported to be dose-dependent.
  • GHB comes in different dosage forms like powder, capsule, and liquid, and its half-life is around 30-50 minutes. Although this is a short period, its side effects are considered risky. Some of the GHB side effects include nausea, vomiting, headache, loss of consciousness, and impaired breathing.
  • Ketamine is an injectable anesthetic drug that was first used in veterinary medicine. Its half-life is relatively short, about 2.5 hours. Based on the report of medical doctors from the USA, this substance causes amnesia, less severe dysphoria, and abdominal disorders. Also from the same study, it was reported that these effects are dose-dependent.
  • Rohypnol or Roofie Drugs comes with a half-life of around 16-35 hours and this rave drug takes effect 20-30 minutes after injection. From the report of a medical doctor from Minneapolis, it was stated that this substance produces risky side effects similar to alcohol intoxication including drowsiness, dizziness, amnesia, confusion, hallucinations, nausea, and vomiting.
  • LSD has a short half-life and it only takes around 15-28 hours for this substance to leave the system. However, its effects are still dangerous. Some of these include increased heart rate and blood pressure,  headache, nausea, tremor, dizziness, impaired psychomotor functions, and exhaustion. Moreover, these side effects may last in the body for up to 72 hours.
  • Methamphetamine has a half-life of 10-12 hours. When abused, this substance causes increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, abdominal cramps, and even stroke.

Aside from the dose, the risk of dangers associated with these drugs increases because of drug interactions. When taken with other substances like marijuana and alcohol, these party substances have dangerous club drugs effects including loss of consciousness and memory loss. In case any of these effects are observed, contact and seek immediate medical care as soon as possible.

Long-Term Club Drugs Effects

As said, a person may also feel anxious or panicked, depending on the dose of the drug and whether it was mixed with other substances. At higher doses, more serious club drugs effects can be observed, usually, respiratory and cardiac issues. Based on a study of psychologists from London, ketamine can increase the risk of heart diseases, ulcerative cystitis, and sleep changes. Also from the same study, the mortality rate of death from accidents due to ketamine intoxication is high. In 2010, 2 patients who abused the use of ketamine died because of drowning and hypothermia.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it was reported that misuse or abuse of ecstasy causes long-term health effects even after the use of the substance. Some of these include heart damage, impaired memory, sleep disturbances, and decreased cognitive function. Moreover, with regards to the substance GHB, according to a clinical review from The Netherlands, it was reported that GHB users are prone to overdose, thereby causing long-term neurotoxic effects such as long-term memory loss and cognitive changes.

Furthermore, aside from club addictions, when patients abuse methamphetamine, they can experience long-term physical and psychological effects. Some of the physical long-term club drugs effects include weight loss, tooth decay and tooth loss, and skin sores. On the other hand, the psychological long-term effects include psychosis, brain structure changes, and decreased cognition.

Looking at these effects, it is safe to say that the long-term effects of club drugs vary by the type of ingested substance. Based on a study published in Psychopharmacology, LSD is best known for its propensity to cause lasting psychosis. Several substances in this category are also addictive and can cause withdrawal effects and cravings.

Club Drugs Addiction And Abuse

Many people do not realize how easy it is to get addicted to club drugs. Based on the study of psychologists from New York, 70% of club-goers had never used illicit drugs but because of peer pressure, some of these individuals may become inclined with the use of these substances. To understand how drug clubs cause addiction, it is necessary to consider the physical aspect as well. Substances like LSD and other hallucinogens are generally considered non-addictive since they do not cause drug-seeking behaviors. However, a user’s body quickly builds tolerance for LSD, forcing the person to take larger doses and put themselves at risk of suffering dangerous side effects. Ecstasy and Ketamine are reported to cause physical dependence by some users.

The most addictive party drugs include Roofie Drugs, GHB, and methamphetamine and a person is likely to start experiencing withdrawal effects when they discontinue the use. In 2011, it was reported that even the 12th graders in the United States use these party drugs. 7.5% of these young people used ecstasy, 4.6% had used LSD, 8.1% had used cocaine, and 6.2% had used methamphetamine.

A young man with club drugs addiction sitting in the therapy group meeting.

Party Drugs Addiction and Abuse Signs and Symptoms

Club drugs abuse is characterized by the non-medical use of substances to experience pleasure or other effects of the substance. Considering how club drugs are taken, it may be difficult for a medical professional to diagnose club addictions and abuse. In one research published in the Substance Use & Misuse journal, substances at parties and raves are frequently consumed impulsively rather than regularly, and patients may be hesitant to admit using if they do it rarely.

Some of the physical club drugs addiction signs and symptoms include:

  • Unexplained bruises
  • Acting subtly
  • Significant increase in heart rate
  • Hyper-reactivity
  • Shaking and inability to move normally

Usually, overall deterioration of physical health and appearance can be observed when users abuse or become addicted to not just party drugs but all controlled substances. If anyone is seen having these physical signs and symptoms, it is highly advised to contact and seek medical care as soon as possible to manage the club addictions properly and prevent other unwanted health events.

Furthermore, there are also psychological signs and symptoms of club drugs addiction. Some of these include:

  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Unusual intoxication
  • Forgetfulness
  • Constant worrying
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Extreme risk-taking
  • Family and financial troubles

While the increasing rates of club drugs abuse are troubling, there is an even more alarming fact about club drugs. Since most of the substances are illegal in the majority of countries, rave drugs are frequently sold in forms that are not approved for human use. For instance, inhaled alkyl nitrites can be encountered as “room deodorizer” and “leather polish” but some patients abuse this inhalant drug. For this reason, it is impossible to ensure that a person receives the drug they expect. Poor quality of the substances and large dosages contribute to the number of fatalities associated with the use of club drugs.

Who Is Most at Risk of Club Drugs Addiction and Abuse

Although it may be intuitive to some that this category of substances is mainly used by a younger demographic, club drugs statistics reveal truly disturbing tendencies. Research indicates that the abuse is particularly rampant among young adults and minors. 1.5% of people ages 12 to 17 have used LSD at least once in their life. This number leaps to 9.1% for persons who are 18 to 25 years of age. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most widely abused substances among adults are psychotherapeutic medications. Ecstasy follows with 12% of people ages 18 to 25 have ever tried it. The least used substance is methamphetamine. 6.4% of adults older than 26 and 3% of people ages 18-25 have tried it.

Club Drug Overdose Signs and First Aid

Since 1990, the US Drug Enforcement Agency has recorded around 15,600 overdose cases of one of the club drugs called GHB. Moreover, in the year 2000, it was reported that 6 people died in Florida because of GHB overdose. For this reason, it is safe to say that it is possible for party-goers who use club drugs to experience an overdose. Aside from GHB, the most common substance that can cause an overdose includes ecstasy because of its convenient drug dosage form.

According to the American Family Physician, when these club drugs are taken in excess over a short period or taken with other substances such as alcohol, they may cause the following overdose signs:

  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration
  • Seizures
  • Uncontrolled body movements
  • Confusion and other changes in mental status.
  • Restlessness and anxiety, even paranoia
  • Headache and blurred vision
  • Clenched jaws
  • Elevated body temperature, chills, and excessive sweating
  • Abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting
  • Irregular and rapid heart rate along with chest pains
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Urinary retention

If these club drug overdose signs are not managed properly, they could lead to coma and death. Therefore, since club addiction is most common to young people, a family member must be knowledgeable of first aid management when it comes to a party drug overdose. When one is experiencing any of these overdose symptoms, a conscious person should contact for medical care by calling 911 or the National Poison Management and Control Center.

While waiting for the support, the following can be done:

  • Lay the patient down and turn them onto their side to prevent aspiration
  • Ensure that the patient has a clear airway and remove any dangerous objects nearby in case they have a seizure
  • Try to keep the patient calm while waiting on emergency services

Also from the American Family Physician, once a proper overdose treatment was given to the patient, the overdose will resolve with full recovery from drugs within 7 hours. Since this overdose is life-threatening, the best thing to do is to prevent it and that is by avoiding the use of illicit medications.

Party Drug Withdrawal

When a patient abruptly stops the use of club drugs, withdrawal syndrome occurs. In a clinical review of neurologists from Baltimore, patients withdrawing from club drugs are more depressed and irritable.

To understand more about the withdrawal timeline and symptoms of each club drug, take a look at the information table below:

SUBSTANCE WITHDRAWAL TIMELINE & SYMPTOMS
GHB Acute withdrawal in 1-24 hours. During the first 24 hours, this club drug may induce severe insomnia, intermittent tachycardia, anxiety, shaking, and hypertension. Within the next 6 days, anxiety may worsen, while other symptoms remain without change or improvement.
LSD The effects of LSD wear off within 16 hours after the ingestion. Subsequently, hallucinations, altered sensations, flashbacks, and emotional instability may last for days, weeks, or even months.
KETAMINE WIthdrawal from Ketamine normally begins between 24 and 72 hours after the last dose. The withdrawal symptoms of this party drug may include insomnia, tremors, fatigue, irritability, depression, and nausea.
ECSTASY Ecstasy withdrawal can begin as soon as 3-6 hours after the drug was ingested. The effects include some common club drugs withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, anxiety, aggression, depression, impulsivity, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms peak within several days after the last dose was taken and last for up to a week.
METHAMPHETAMINE First symptoms appear in 24 hours and peak within 4-10 days. Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings for the substance, fatigue, hypersomnia, increased appetite, and nervousness. In severe cases, this club drug may cause hallucinations and paranoia.
ROHYPNOL Acute withdrawal in 3-4 days. Rohypnol withdrawal is marked by anxiety, cravings, insomnia, increased heart rate, and weight loss.

There is hope for a patient who wants to withdraw from club substances safely, and one of the most effective and safest ways to withdraw from these substances is by considering drug detoxification. There are detox medications, detox drinks, and other safe detox techniques to achieve safe recovery from drugs. However, these processes can only be given by a medical doctor or health professionals from rehabilitation centers.

Club Drugs Addiction Treatment And Recovery

Although many people tend to overlook it, rave substances have a high addiction potential and frequently lead to physical dependence. When a person discontinues the use of these substances, they are likely to feel cravings and withdrawal effects that require treatment. The most effective treatment and care for club addictions can be found at various rehab centers. Although each facility may offer different treatments for club drugs abuse, they share the basic steps of recovery from drugs. Treatment always begins with detoxification. When a person is clean, medications may be administered to relieve the unpleasant symptoms and treat potentially dangerous conditions associated with withdrawal. Substance abuse treatment includes a pharmaceutical approach supplemented with various types of therapy to tackle the underlying causes of the patient’s club addictions and prevent relapsing.

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Published on: July 23rd, 2019

Updated on: June 9th, 2022

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.