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'It sucks the soul out of you, it's worse than heroin': One woman's story of G addiction

Olivia suffered from drug addiction for 30 years, but one drug in particular affected her like no other.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/spixel

“I WAS IN active addiction for the best part of 30 years and nothing else I ever took really had such a huge negative impact on everything. It’s worse than heroin, it’s actually worse.”

OLIVIA TOOK HER first drug when she was 12. She didn’t know it at the time but drugs would feature in her life, in some shape or form, for the next three decades.

One drug in particular affected her in a way that was different to the others: GHB.

In recent years, GHB – also known as Gina, G or liquid ecstasy (it usually comes in clear liquid form) – has been associated with chemsex and MSM (men who have sex with men). However, many other people use it too, often purely for the purpose of getting high, rather than for anything sexual.

G – which is highly addictive – has been around for a very long time but has seen an increase in popularity in recent years.

Olivia was introduced to G while on the gay partying scene in Dublin about 10 years ago, but she herself is straight. She also never used G for chemsex but did become addicted to it.

“I’ve been able to start and stop other drugs, go out, take a few pills, do a bit of k(etamine) or whatever. And then have a couple of valium for your comedown, a couple of joints, and that was the cycle, for years and years and years,” she told TheJournal.ie.

At first, shots of G were just part of a regular night out with her friends.

“In the beginning it was just on the weekend or at a session, whatever,” she recalled. 

“A couple of us used to get together years ago and maybe have a few drinks on a Thursday night and then it went from having a few drinks on a Thursday to doing shots (of G) on a Thursday and then it just became a daily thing.

“As time went on, you kind of knew more about it. When it came to Monday morning, I’d have to go to work so I’d do a shot just to kind of level me out and stop the shakes.

“I could go to work. I used to go to work and I could do my job very, very well. I know people who work in banks, people who work in insurance, lawyers or doctors and they all take [G]. It’s a very insidious drug, it’s the most insidious drug I’ve ever taken,” Olivia said.

She recalled how she and her friends “thought we were invincible” when they were younger, telling us: “At the start, we didn’t know really anything about [G]. We didn’t know that it was physically addictive.”

‘I was doing a shot nearly every hour’

Olivia compared doing shots of G to shots of vodka, saying “it has a very similar effect on you”.

“Obviously I know they’re different but I think it’s just a psychological thing of doing a shot of something, something short and strong that has a deep effect very quickly.

“After taking it for about a year and a half, I knew it there was a problem with it,” she said. 

The partying became more frequent, the sessions became longer.

“Any hour of any day of any week you found a party. People just sitting in their houses, having a few shots,” she recalled.

At the height of her addiction, Olivia was taking 20 to 24ml of G a day. “I was doing a shot nearly every hour,” she said, adding: “That’s when I looked for help.”

shutterstock_1031175115 File photo Source: Shutterstock/vi mart

Olivia said she called a few helplines looking for advice about how to get clean but “nobody knew what I was talking about”. This was in 2012 and people didn’t know much about G or how individuals could detox from it.

She said did her own research about G and found lots of services in the UK but not in Ireland. She said Graham Ryall and others from the Rialto Community Drug Team were very helpful and supportive, but that she needed a detox bed to get clean. She tried for over a year to get a bed but, at the time, no such facility existed for G users.

“I was actually devastated. At that point I didn’t get any more than three hours sleep a night. I was exhausted, I didn’t know where to go, who to talk to.”

It came to a point where it was either order another litre of G or just present myself to A & E. I presented myself at the A & E in Beaumont (Hospital).

“I did my last shot and I went up to the desk and said, ‘I’m addicted to this’. I gave them all the information I had researched and asked them to help me.”

‘Horrific’ hallucinations 

Olivia said she wasn’t given any medication but stayed in the hospital for a few hours.

“I went into severe DT (delirium tremens, a state of confusion and hallucination brought on by withdrawal from drugs or alcohol). Now, I’ve heard people talk about DT and all the rest of it. It’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever been through in my life.

“I was hallucinating, I thought the nurses’ station was a sacrificial altar. I thought people had devil horns on their heads and tails are coming out of their asses. I thought my kids have been murdered. It was just horrific, really it was absolutely horrific.”

Olivia said, at some point during the night, she went home. She’s not sure how, but thinks she must have got a taxi.

“I had sleeping tablets here in the house so it took a lot of sleeping tablets, and I finally fell asleep,” she said.

Olivia said her family knew about her addiction, “they knew something was seriously wrong”, and knew she had gone to the hospital in a bid to get clean. So when her son saw her in the house the next morning he brought her straight back to Beaumont.

“He brought me back to the hospital and kicked up murder, he told them I was not to leave the hospital until I was detoxed.”

Olivia said she was admitted to the hospital and given Librium (a drug commonly used to treat withdrawal symptoms from drugs), valium and sleeping tablets.

“They detoxed me in a normal ward with general patients. I was there for a week, I don’t remember much, it’s a complete blur.”

shutterstock_567668200 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Kzenon

Olivia said she received no support once she left the hospital. She was clean for about six months but then relapsed and began taking a mixture of drugs.

“You would take a combination of whatever, sometimes on day three or day four of the session you know, one thing alone is not working so I devised what became known as the plan – where you take a shot of G, some mephedrone or seed (a hallucinogen) or you take a pill, a joint, just a combination and you finally get a hit.”

‘It is like a dementor from Harry Potter’

Olivia said G was euphoric in the beginning, but ended up completely taking over her life.

“Basically it gives you a euphoric feeling and you’re chatty and you want to talk to people, you’re constantly going, going.

“At the end of it, like any group of friends, including the group of friends that I was a part of, we all turned on each other. And then everybody fell out with everybody else at some point.

And I become totally withdrawn, isolated. You don’t want to talk to people. You don’t want to leave your house. It’s just awful. It’s horrible.

“You’re just constantly giving out, constantly moaning, arguing, just really bitter and resentful and I’m not by nature a bitter and resentful person.

“I was in active addiction for the best part of 30 years and nothing else I ever took really had such a huge negative impact on everything. [G] is worse than heroin. It’s actually worse.

“It is like a dementor from Harry Potter, it sucks the soul out of you.”

Going under 

Olivia said she took G on and off for several years, and struggled to kick it for good. She overdosed “several times” and, on one occasion, she was sexually assaulted.

TheJournal.ie has reported on how common it is to overdose while taking G, and growing concerns about sexual assault.

An addiction expert previously told us why it’s so important to call 999 if someone goes under while on G, and why consent is essential during any type of sexual activity.

“Different people go under in different ways – some people just lie down and go to sleep, I used to convulse and shake, it used to be horrible,” Olivia said. 

“People would go under nearly all the time but I’ve never been anywhere where an ambulance has been called. 

“I was at a house one day and I was sexually assaulted by a woman. It wasn’t a party, we were sitting around during the day,” Olivia said. It was a woman she knew. She didn’t report it to gardaí.

Olivia said she knows two men who died after taking G, and is aware of men who have been gang-raped after taking the drug, some of whom were deliberately spiked.

“They’re deliberately given a shot of too much G. Not enough to kill them, but enough to knock them out. Watch who is giving you a shot, watch them like a hawk,” she said.

Noel Sutton of the Gay Health Network previously told TheJournal.ie he knows of a number of men who have been sexually assaulted or raped after taking G, and at least eight men who died after taking the drug.

Under the sink

Olivia, like a lot of users, bought her G online. GBL is sometimes sold as a substitute for GHB – it’s found in cleaning solvents and converts to GHB when you swallow it.

She said one litre of G, including delivery, cost about €130. “I’d get a litre about every six weeks, I’d order it online. [Getting it] was never an issue.”

When asked if she ever had to say she was ordering G for cleaning purposes, she told us: “I just ordered it, you didn’t have to give a reason.”

Olivia generally kept her G in the kitchen of her home.

I remember my son saying to me, ‘Where did you keep it?’ I said, ‘Underneath the kitchen sink, at the back’, because that’s the last place they’d be looking for it – in the cleaning press.

“A friend of mine said to me years ago, this guy now was never addicted to G, but he said when people started having litres of it underneath the kitchen sink, that’s when you have a problem.”

‘Semi-bourgeois bullshit elitism’

Olivia said part of the reason she is sharing her story is because of the recent association between G and chemsex – the drug is commonly used to enhance and prolong sexual activity.

“Although G is predominantly being used and abused by gay men there are also a lot of heterosexual women like myself who are or were addicted to it. I feel we need a voice and for that fact to be recognised.”

Olivia said many people wrongly assume G is solely used for chemsex, which does a disservice to people who are battling G addiction.

“I never used it for sex. And and any straight woman who I know who used it has never has never used it for sex either.”

shutterstock_350783222 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Chayatorn Laorattanavech

Olivia said the association between G and chemsex gives the drug “a mantle of semi-bourgeois bullshit elitism”. “Some people think, ‘Oh we’ll just go in here and we’ll get some Librium and everything will be cool, blah, blah, blah. It’s not like that.”

Olivia has watched the G scene change in recent years, with the drug becoming more ‘acceptable’ to use.

“I would be one of the oldest, I’m certainly the oldest woman who would have been around things like that around the G scene.

“I know chemsex has its own little barrel of issues going with it as well. It has annoyed me so much over the last few years. Every now and then people lose sight of what this is about. And this is about addiction. Chemsex is an offshoot of addiction.”

Her advice about G is simple: don’t start taking it as a habit can form very quickly and, before you realise what’s happening, become a dependence.

“You just don’t know what [G] is like. A person might go on holiday for a week or go to a festival and take it for three or four days. And you can form a habit in that short space of time. Just don’t take it.”

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The root of addiction

In a bid to stop using G and other drugs, Olivia started drinking more. She eventually presented to an alcohol treatment centre over two years ago, staying there for three months.

During the course of her stay, she said therapy helped her get to the root of her addiction issues and “get through a lot of the stuff I needed to get through”.

“Put it this way, I never actually knew what made me tick. I excavated an extremely traumatic event that happened to me as a child that I had no recollection of until I was in the treatment centre.

“But that event shaped me and the way I thought, the way I felt, it shaped my coping mechanisms, my whole life.”

Olivia said once she dealt with this issue, “the fear was taken out of it” and she started to get better. She has been clean of all drugs and alcohol since then.

shutterstock_1146444365 File photo Source: Shutterstock/stu120

Olivia said she wants people who suffer from addiction to know that support is available and they can get better. 

Those who have a G addiction can get tailored help and support now thanks to people like Ryall and Dr Kiran Santlal, Registrar in Psychiatry of Substance Misuse at the National Drug Treatment Centre (NDTC) in Dublin.

They are both members of the Chemsex Working Group – a cross-agency group that meets regularly to discuss how to address issues related to chemsex and G-use – and helped to set up Ireland’s only G detoxification clinic.

Olivia said Ryall, Santlal and others working in this area have been “truly amazing” and “relentless” in ensuring more services are available to people who become addicted to G.

“Help is in place, thanks to Graham and Kiran, so it’s vitally important to try reach out because no doors will be closed in anyone’s face nowadays as they were to me just a few years ago,” she told us.

After a difficult few years, Olivia said her relationship with her children, who are adults, is now “absolutely amazing, just amazing”.

She is back working and enjoys the normality of her daily routine. “My life is very simple – no drama, no hassle, no nothing. Everything’s really good.”

Note: Olivia’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

Advice and support

If you’re with someone who has gone under while taking G:

  • don’t leave them unattended
  • make sure they’re breathing, and continue to check their breathing until they wake up
  • put them in the recovery position (lie them on their side)
  • if someone is unconscious and unresponsive, call 112 or 999

More information on GHB and harm reduction can be read here.

Here are some of the support services available:

If you’d like to speak to me about your experience of GHB use or chemsex, email orla@thejournal.ie or contact me anonymously via my Threema ID ZVHKV6VD.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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