Bath Salts Addiction

Bath salts are relatively new on the illicit drug scene, but they have received a lot of attention in recent years because of their capacity to cause dangerous or psychotic behavior. While these side effects are rare, bath salts are highly addictive and represent a real threat to those who use them frequently and irresponsibly. Fortunately, bath salts addiction can be overcome with treatment and a long-term commitment to a drug-free lifestyle.

What Is Bath Salts Addiction?

The name ‘bath salts’ is deceptive. These innocuously named powders are actually designer drugs that contain synthetic forms of cathinone, a mind-altering substance found in shrubs that grow in certain areas of Africa and the Middle East.

Synthetic cathinones act as stimulants in the brain, producing psychoactive effects similar to those caused by amphetamines. When smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested, bath salts induce feelings of euphoria by increasing the production and concentration of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which are involved in the regulation of mood and emotion.

Despite their intoxicating effects, bath salts were once legal in several states. Federal law was amended in 2012 to close this loophole, but compounds containing synthetic cathinones like mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV are still widely available on the illicit drug black market.

Like other illicit stimulants, bath salts can be addictive if consumed excessively, and those who ignore the warnings about the danger they represent are playing with fire.

Facts and Statistics

Since bath salts were made illegal, it appears use rates have been in decline. Calls to U.S. poison control centers related to bath salt abuse dropped precipitously following the change in the law, from 6,137 in 2011 to just 996 by 2013, and there are no indications of any increases since then.

Little is known about the prevalence of bath salt abuse and addiction among adults, since the drug has never been as widely misused as other stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and amphetamines. But the consumption of bath salts among youth has been studied, and the figures show a recent dramatic decline in the popularity of these synthetic intoxicants.

Between 2012 and 2016, annual bath salt consumption rates among adolescents aged 12-18 held steady. Less than one percent (.9 percent, or one out of every 111) of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders admitted to trying the drug in 2012, and in 2016 that number had dropped only slightly, to .8 percent (one out of every 125).

But in 2017, there was a notable change. Rates of past-year bath salt consumption among youth plummeted from .8 percent in 2016 to just .5 percent, a drop of nearly 40 percent. This means that only one out of every 200 teens tried bath salts that year, which suggests the message about the dangers of these substances is finally getting through to young people.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Bath Salts Addiction

Bath salts have no medicinal uses and are taken strictly for their euphoric effects. In addition to the bursts of joy and ecstasy they cause as they stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers, bath salts also give users a sudden jolt of energy that may last for several hours after the drug was consumed. Delusions of grandeur and great personal power often accompany bath salt use, and it is these mood- and pleasure-enhancing effects that make the drug so seductive to people the first few times they use it.

But escalating bath salt consumption leads to greater tolerance for the drug, meaning users must take more and more to achieve the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms may then develop anytime the user tries to stop taking the drug for more than a few hours, and this is a telltale sign that dependency has developed.

Some of the side effects of heavy and/or regular bath salt use include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks
  • Persistent agitation and anxiety
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Paranoia, hostility
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Outbursts of violent or psychotic behavior
  • Self-harm or suicide attempts

The symptoms of bath salts addiction can be intense and frightening, and when addiction reaches an advanced stage a person can become a danger to themselves and others if medical attention is not forthcoming.

Diagnosing Bath Salts Addiction

An addiction to bath salts can be diagnosed by a mental health professional if the following criteria are met:

  • Use of the drug is causing a person to neglect personal, professional, parental, and/or academic responsibilities.
  • Use of bath salts continues despite incidences or events that put the health of the individual at risk.
  • Bath salt consumption persists even though it is causing relationship troubles or other social difficulties.
  • Tolerance for the drug has grown significantly, to the point where the person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit using the bath salts

When dependency on bath salts has been established, treatment should be sought quickly to avoid severe consequences.

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Bath Salts Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

Changes in brain activity are the direct cause of drug addiction. But some people are more at risk for developing an addiction to bath salts than others.

The known risk factors for bath salt dependency include:

  • Family history and genetics. Studies suggest that up to half of the risk for drug addiction is traceable to inherited risk.
  • Previous incidence of mental illness. People often turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate when they experience disturbing symptoms of mental illness. Stimulant abuse is especially common among those who suffer from mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Other types of drug abuse, or alcohol abuse. Many people who use bath salts for their mind-altering effects have a long history of using other drugs, and dependency is more likely to develop in those who abuse more than one drug simultaneously.
  • Peer pressure. Young people who spend time with peers who are experimenting with bath salts may have a hard time saying no if they are asked to do the same, and when kids push each other to use drugs the results can be disastrous.

Withdrawal Symptoms

People who are addicted to bath salts cannot stop using them suddenly without suffering serious physical and psychological effects. Powerful cravings for the drug will be experienced within a few hours of the last dosage, and without medical attention they will only get worse for at least the first 24-48 hours.

The withdrawal symptoms of bath salts addiction include:

  • Overwhelming anxiety and panic
  • Severe and unpleasant mood swings
  • Decline in focus, concentration, and memory
  • Lethargy
  • Extreme irritability
  • Poor sleep that provides little rest
  • Sudden fits of anger or violence

Medical detox in a clinical facility is recommended for anyone attempting to overcome bath salts dependency, and this is essential if the individual is dependent on more than one drug, as people who’ve been abusing bath salts often are. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol addiction can be fatal, and anyone who’s been mixing bath salts with alcohol will definitely require detox services.

Bath Salts Overdose

Quality control is often lacking with designer drugs, and some doses of substances like bath salts may be far more potent than users realize. This raises the risk of overdose, as does mixing bath salts with alcohol or other intoxicating drugs.

Hostile, violent, or bizarre behavior are clear signs of a bath salt overdose, and anyone exhibiting such symptoms should be rushed to an emergency room immediately. Other signs of bath salt overdose may include:

  • Intense agitation and distress
  • Heavy sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mental confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Frightening delusions or hallucinations
  • Unprovoked paranoia or terror

At the extreme end, bath salt overdoses can lead to death through cardiac arrest. The psychotic behavior an overdose can cause is also extremely dangerous to the bath salt user and his or her companions.


Co-Occurring Disorders

People who fall prey to the lure of stimulants like bath salts often suffer from mental health disorders, usually of a type that affect their moods. Depression and stimulant addiction frequently manifest together, although the cause and effect relationship can be complex: people suffering from depression may use bath salts to help lift their moods, but the neurological effects of bath salt abuse will only make the symptoms of depression more severe and persistent.

Bath salts are not a primary drug of abuse for most people who use them. They are often mixed with other stimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamines, or MDMA, to boost their effects. In other cases, people with substance use issues may combine them with central nervous system depressants like alcohol, heroin, or opioid painkillers, as a way to balance their moods.

Regardless of the pattern of polydrug abuse, this type of behavior puts users at high risk for substance use disorders, with bath salts playing a supplementary rather than leading role.

Bath Salts Addiction Treatment and Prognosis

Because the cathinones in bath salts are toxic and addictive, anyone addicted to these substances should begin their recovery in medical detox. After slowly but safely detoxifying from these drugs over a period of a few days, it will be appropriate to begin inpatient treatment, which normally lasts anywhere from 30 to 90 days depending on the severity of the bath salts addiction.

Treatment programs for bath salt addiction usually combine individual, group, and family psychotherapy with various holistic healing and stress management techniques, including meditation, yoga, massage therapy, arts therapy, wilderness or adventure therapy, and biofeedback. Life skills and educational classes can help prepare people in recovery for the challenges they will face as they attempt to preserve their sobriety back in the “real world.”

Relapse Prevention

The risk of relapse following treatment for bath salts addiction is real, and that is why aftercare or continuing care programs are so vital to the recovery process. Long-term therapy and peer group involvement are crucial elements in a well-planned campaign against drug dependency, and through continuing care the turbulent emotions or troubling life events that might provoke relapse can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Thankfully, bath salts addiction is relatively uncommon. But for those who’ve become dependent on this dangerous substance, comprehensive treatment offers their best chance for a lasting recovery.