Ecstasy Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Ecstasy, also referred to as MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a popular, illicit “club drug” that can produce a range of side effects. Chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, ecstasy may produce feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth and distorted sensory/time perception.

However, the drug also comes with a number of risks to health and may result in addiction. Treatment for ecstasy abuse should be comprehensive and may include a number of components, depending on individual need.

Ecstasy Abuse Symptoms

When people abuse ecstasy, they typically take it as a capsule or tablet, although the drug is also available in liquid and powder forms. Someone under the influence of ecstasy may experience symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • muscle cramping
  • involuntary jaw clenching
  • blurred vision
  • chills
  • sweating

The effects of ecstasy can last three to six hours, although many people often take a second dose of the drug before the effects of the first dose have worn off entirely. Individuals can also show signs of extended abuse for up to a week following moderate to extreme use of the drug.

Possible long-term effects of ecstasy include:

  • irritability
  • impulsiveness
  • aggression
  • depression
  • sleep problems
  • anxiety
  • memory and attention problems
  • decreased appetite
  • decreased interest in pleasure from sex

The above symptoms are more likely to occur in individuals who abuse ecstasy in combination with another substance, such as cocaine.

Effects Of Ecstasy On The Brain

MDMA acts by increasing the activity of three brain chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These chemicals impact various bodily functions. Increased levels of dopamine can cause a surge in feelings of euphoria and increased energy. While higher levels of norepinephrine increase heart rate and blood pressure increased serotonin production can affect someone’s mood, appetite, sleep and other bodily functions.

description of what the chemical serotonin can affect

Is Ecstasy Addictive?

Research on the addictiveness of ecstasy is still not very clear. Certain experiments have shown that animals will self-administer MDMA—an important indicator of the drug’s potential for abuse, although the amount they administer is less than that of other drugs, such as cocaine. Still, some people who have heavily abused the drug for more than three months at a time report sign of addiction, including withdrawal symptoms.

Scientific data collected from both human and animal studies suggest that regular ecstasy use can produce changes in the structures that influence serotonin and dopamine production in the brain. The changes to these structures have been associated with various substance use disorders and their related behaviors, such as increased impulsivity.

Although it is still not known whether ecstasy is addictive, some people who regularly use the drug report symptoms of addiction, including continued use despite potentially negative physical and psychological consequences, tolerance, withdrawal, and cravings.

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Potential Medical Uses For MDMA

Ecstasy was first used in the 1970s as an aid in psychotherapy. The drug was not supported by clinical research or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 1985, the drug was labeled as illegal by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for not having a recognized medicinal use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some researchers maintain that ecstasy may be useful in carefully controlled conditions, to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in terminally ill individuals, and possibly for individuals who struggle with social anxiety or autism.

Risks Of Ecstasy Abuse

Ecstasy is often cut with other drugs, such as ketamine or amphetamines. It may also be mixed with drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine or LSD, to increase the desired effects or cause a different type of “high.” It can be hard to know exactly what is in an ecstasy capsule, which is one reason people may mix this drug with other substances.

Molly, another common name for MDMA, often refers to the assumed “pure” crystalline powder form of the drug, which is usually sold in capsules. It is not uncommon for people to be unaware that ecstasy capsules actually contain synthetic cathinones, or bath salts, instead.

Ecstasy is often cut with ketamine or amphetamines

Ecstasy Detox And Withdrawal

Prolonged use of ecstasy can cause the brain to become dependent on the drug in order to function normally. When someone stops taking the drug, they may go through withdrawal as their brain tries to relearn how to operate without it.

During the initial withdrawal period, also referred to as detox, individuals typically experience effects opposite to what they felt when under the influence of the drug. This typically includes symptoms such as depression, anxiety and intense cravings for the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms produced by ecstasy are typically psychological, however, some people have reported experiencing physical effects as well. The exact symptoms, and how long they last, will vary from person to person. A few factors that can affect the withdrawal process include tolerance, frequency, and duration of use and the metabolism/overall health of the individual.

Possible symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal can include:

  • depression
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • cravings
  • agitation
  • paranoia
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of appetite
  • memory problems
  • changes in self-perception

Although the withdrawal symptoms from ecstasy are normally not life-threatening, the intense cravings individuals can experience during withdrawal may cause them to relapse. This can be dangerous, especially after detoxing, as this can significantly decrease someone’s tolerance to the drug. Once they relapse, they may be inclined to take the dose size that they were accustomed to prior to detoxing. This increases the risk of overdose, which can be fatal.

It may also be difficult for individuals to handle the feelings of depression and anxiety that result from stopping ecstasy on their own. This is why it is typically recommended for individuals to detox in a medical facility or an inpatient rehab center.

Treatment For Ecstasy Abuse And Addiction

Currently, there are no approved medications for the treatment of ecstasy abuse or addiction. Individuals wanting to break their addiction to ecstasy usually find their best chance at recovery in an inpatient treatment program, utilizing a variety of therapies, counseling, and clinical support.

Residential treatment programs work to create individualized treatment plans based on each person’s specific needs. These centers also provide a safe space where people who are addicted to the drug can start to work towards recovery.

For more information on ecstasy abuse, addiction, and treatment options, contact an addiction specialist today.


Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse — MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse

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