What Is Phenibut? How Does Addiction Start?

Phenibut is an anti-anxiety medication prescribed in Russia. Since the 1960s, it has been used to treat insomnia, depression, stuttering, vestibular disorders, irregular heartbeat, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to BMJ Case Reports. Phenibut is a GABA-B agonist and goes by the names B-phenyl-y-aminobutyric acid or phenyl-GABA. It is a synthetic form of GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, one of the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitters.

GABA has the effect of inducing a relaxed, calm feeling. A person will feel reduced anxiety and nervousness in social situations, for example, and may have more control over feelings and thoughts. By regulating overactive neural processing, it can help people who tend to over-think and who are overly self-conscious. Phenibut may also reduce negativity and has sedative effects.


Background on Phenibut

Although not approved in Western countries, phenibut is available as a supplement from many online stores and e-commerce sites. It was first made in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1963 as an experimental drug for young patients undergoing psychiatric treatment. The tranquilizing effects were documented the following year, and by 1975, phenigamma became widely known as phenibut. It has been used by soviet cosmonauts to take advantage of the calming, yet mentally stimulating, effects. Today, it’s known as a mood enhancer, sleep aid, exercise recovery booster, and even a “smart drug” currently sold on online markets as a nootropic.

valium withdrawalOverall, the addictiveness of phenibut is considered low and addiction is rare, but this potentially harmful “supplement” has gained the attention of agencies worldwide. Since it can be purchased online and has many uses, there is a danger that access and abuse may go unchecked.

There have been reports of people using the substance to self-medicate. One individual combined phenibut with kratom to cope with alcohol and benzodiazepines withdrawal symptoms. The 2013 study indicated that it can be extremely challenging to overcome a dependency as withdrawal involves a great deal of anxiety, irritability, and anger. It took 24 weeks of treatment to put the individual into full remission from dependency.

Who Abuses Phenibut?

In addition to killing anxiety, the substance has many other properties. People use it to increase their attention and concentration. Phenibut is often used recreationally to calm nerves in social situations. It induces calm feelings and focus without the upper effects of caffeine or the depressive effects of alcohol.

In the blood, the substance has a half-life of about 5.3 hours but its impacts can last an entire day. The effect on the brain’s GABA receptors continues after all of the drug has been secreted. Bodybuilders have used it too, claiming muscle-building properties that haven’t yet been proven. A medical sports science study suggested GABA ingestion may increase human growth hormone levels and muscle response to intense exercise.

As with any drug, legitimate use of phenibut can lead to abuse. The absence of a standard dosage complicates things as well; the optimal dosage amount varies based on the individual, personality, and chemical makeup.

Individuals can go from legitimate use to abuse for a few reasons:

  • Withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe when not using the drug.
  • Users try to avoid further mental and physical discomfort, a situation that may be overcompensated for by taking higher, more frequent dosages.
  • After long periods of use, stopping phenibut suddenly results in the previous symptoms returning.

Signs of an Addiction

In order to better understand how addictive phenibut may be or the unknown dangers of use, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s 2013 Annual Report mentions phenibut as one of 81 new psychoactive substances requiring attention. Many of these are legal or non-regulated alternatives to controlled drugs. Labeled as a supplement, Phenibut had previously not been tracked by drug monitoring systems and therefore has appeared on health food store websites and fitness equipment shops. A “natural” label is misleading. Consumers often believe these are healthy options with no detrimental effects. As can be seen, that is not always the case.

Since withdrawal symptoms can be severe, people often increase their dosages to find relief. Symptoms can begin 3-4 hours after using the drug, as noted in a 2013 case study. If a loved one is taking more phenibut or continuing to take it for longer than planned, it may be a sign of addiction. Withdrawal symptoms may last for up to two weeks and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Tremor
  • Hyperactivity/hyperkinesia
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression/irritability
  • Reduced appetite
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Decreased pain threshold
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
An overdose may be indicated by a lowered body temperature, sleepiness, and excessive muscle relaxation. The signs of phenibut addiction include:

  • Dizziness
  • Tolerance that builds rapidly
  • Grogginess or lack of motivation
  • Mood changes
  • Vomiting and constipation
  • Falling behind on work/home obligations

Those who are potentially addicted will also show other classic signs. These include hiding their abuse or denying it. Users might be visibly concerned about drug use or even try to quit, but fail, repeatedly. They could use more drugs to seek relief from withdrawal. Over time, they could take even higher dosages to get the same effect, or even combine phenibut with other drugs in dangerous combinations.

Treatment Options

Phenibut addiction is treatable with a variety of methods. It’s important to get the situation under control because, according to an October 2015 Boston Globe report, about 23,000 people in the US visit the emergency room each year after taking unregulated supplements. These include weight loss and energy products, but phenibut is proving to be something people should be more careful with. Treatments for overuse have included:

  • Gradual tapering: By gradually reducing the dosage, a person might be able to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. According to Mental Health Daily, users have reported that by reducing intake by 10 percent every 2-4 weeks, their symptoms were more manageable.
  • Medication: One could supplement phenibut with something else that restores normal neurotransmission. Alternatives include magnesium, chamomile tea, taurine, melatonin, and others. It’s also possible to substitute the drug for something similar but not as addictive. Baclofen, similar in molecular structure, is another potential treatment option. A person underwent gradual substitution over nine weeks in a BMJ study, up to 10 mg per each gram of phenibut. The person tapered off baclofen for another 12 weeks; after 14 weeks, he was given citalopram for depression and anxiety.
  • Stress reduction: Stress has been noted to increase phenibut withdrawal symptoms. Individuals can lower stress levels during withdrawal by exercising, staying busy, or taking approved supplements.

Therapies

Several conventional therapies apply to treating phenibut addiction. A loved one may be helped with the following treatment options:

  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders: Since phenibut is used to treat depression, anxiety, and other issues, a co-occurring disorder is a possibility in those who abuse the drug. SAMHSA reported in 2014 about 7.9 million adults were affected by drug use and a co-occurring disorder such as mental illness. The underlying issue needs to be treated because stress can be a contributing factor to addiction.
  • Medical detox protocols: Withdrawal from phenibut can be complicated by co-occurring medical or mental health disorders, as well as by polydrug abuse. Medical detox ensures that clients are monitored around the clock during withdrawal to ensure safety and comfort. Medications may be provided when necessary, and the withdrawal process usually lasts 5-7 days.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Negative thinking can affect one’s perception of drug use, and CBT is used to talk clients through their ways of thinking and how they respond to stressful situations. CBT seeks to address the thought processes that led to substance abuse and replace those negative thought patterns with healthier options.

Comprehensive treatment incorporates the use of both individual and group therapy. In many instances, alternative therapies may also be used to complement the overall treatment approach. All treatment plans should be catered to the specific needs of each individual client in care.

Medication Alternatives

In the past, phenibut addiction has been treated with similar compounds such as baclofen. Anti-anxiety medications may also be helpful in some instances. If a person started down the road to addiction by taking phenibut for nervousness or anxiety, these symptoms will return when they go off it, even after withdrawal. A proper dosage of citalopram or other anxiety or depression medication, according to the BMJ Case Study, may be administered to manage the underlying disorder on a long-term basis.

Finding Real Recovery

The Internet has made it difficult to regulate consumer access to some illegal and other potentially harmful substances. Since it is legal in some countries, phenibut can be easily purchased online in the United States. Despite its ease of access, serious withdrawal symptoms, and toxic and addictive effects have been reported with continued phenibut abuse.

Fortunately, addiction can be treated. Underlying conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can be managed using established medical and therapeutic protocols. If you, or a loved one, have been affected by phenibut abuse, it’s important to take prompt action to ensure the best chances of a sustained and complete recovery. With proper care, a healthier future is within reach.

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