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Popularly known as “ecstasy,” MDMA (chemical name 3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is a synthetic drug that produces psychoactive effects (i.e., it influences perception). Ecstasy is unique in that it is a hybrid stimulant and hallucinogen that causes the user to experience an increase in energy and emotional sensitivity. In the brain, ecstasy causes the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that elevates mood and works as a short-run antidepressant.
It is sold in tablet form, usually in different colors and bearing different maker logos. Ecstasy is distinguished from “Molly,” which is MDMA in powder in a capsule. Molly may be pure or cut with additives.
As Foundation for a Drug-Free World notes, the popularity of ecstasy and the length of its run on the street has led to it having several different nicknames, including:
Street Names for MDMA/Ecstasy
- California Sunrise
- Hug Drug
- Love Drug
- Love Pill
- Lover’s Speed
In other words, the enjoyment associated with ecstasy drives its use more than a physical craving for drug. And, lack of physical addiction does not lessen the risk of abusing MDMA.
- Approximately 1.3 million Americans aged 12 or older used hallucinogens in the month prior to the survey.
- In the past year, 751,000 Americans aged 12 or older tried ecstasy for the first time.
- Of 751,000 new initiates, 69.4 percent were 18 years or older at the time of first use, and 230,000 first-time users were under the age of 18.
- Among new initiates in the 12-49 age group, 20.5 years old was the average age at the time of first use.
- The level of past-year use of ecstasy among young adults increased from 2007 to 2010, but did not fluctuate much between 2011 and 2013.
The 2013 NSDUH results provide a window into the age of the typical ecstasy/MDMA user, and additionally show that while use of hallucinogens is prevalent, it is not as common as other drugs. For instance, the survey estimated that 4.2 million Americans had a past-year dependency on marijuana and, in this same period, 1.9 million were dependent on prescription pain relievers. The survey therefore demonstrates that it is more likely for a person who uses illicit drugs to use marijuana or prescription painkillers than hallucinogens.
Signs of ecstasy abuse and addiction
As the age profile of MDMA users is skewed toward young adults and teenagers, much of the literature available about ecstasy abuse is framed in terms of the parent and child relationship. The Partnership for Drug-Free America provides guidance on how to recognize the behavioral and physical signs of MDMA abuse in youth (this information is not age-specific and may also be applied to older adults). As the Partnership notes, ecstasy users may exhibit the following behavioral changes:
Ecstasy/MDMA behavioral changes
- Going to New Hangout Places
- Hostile Mood
- Loss of Interest in Activities or Hobbies
- Money/Possessions Disappear from Home
- New Friends
- Sleep Disturbances
- Uncooperative Attitude
- Worsening School Performance
It may be difficult for the naked eye to determine the difference between MDMA use and abuse. It is helpful for parents, and any concerned persons, to be aware of how a person high on ecstasy may appear. Here’s what you may see when a person is abusing ecstasy:
Signs of MDMA use
- Intense Focus on Senses
- Jaw Clenching
- Rapid Eye Movement
- Severe Anxiety or Paranoia
- Sweating, Chills
- Trance-like State
- Unusually Affectionate Behavior
- Vomiting, Nausea
It takes approximately 20-30 minutes after ecstasy consumption for its effects to take hold. The intensity and duration of the effects of ecstasy depend on different factors, such as environmental influences, other drugs used simultaneously (such as LSD), volume of dose, and composition of dose (i.e., whether other agents such as cocaine are mixed in). Dance Safe, an informational site that advocates for safe practices in nightclubs, advises that the normal recreational dosage of ecstasy is 100-125 mg. In general, psychoactive effects of Ecstasy last between one and three hours. However, there are reports of residual effects, such as depression, anxiety, and confusion lasting for weeks after heavy use.
How to get a loved one into rehab
When a loved one is abusing a substance like MDMA, it’s a highly emotional, difficult situation. Often the individual using the substance doesn’t see the negative results of their behavior or actions until it is too late.
Traditional rehab protocols for drug rehabilitation have the ability to break MDMA abuse. Often the first step comes from a loved one or family member. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation, while interventions are often also employed.
Learn more about helping a loved one get into rehab at our friends and family treatment portal.
Ecstacy/MDMA treatment and therapy options
According to the 2013 NSDUH, of the 2.5 million Americans who sought rehab services at a specialized facility, 303,000 received treatment for abuse of hallucinogens. At this time, there are no specialized treatment approaches for MDMA abuse specifically. However, ecstasy abusers have proven to be responsive to traditional rehab treatment methodologies including:
- Abstinence Maintenance Programs
- Individual Psychotherapy
- Group Recovery Meetings
Although there are no targeted medications currently approved to treat ecstasy abuse, antidepressants may be prescribed in the case of a dual diagnosis (i.e., a mental health disorder co-occurring with substance abuse). The lack of a targeted treatment is not specific to ecstasy, as rehab tends to be less about attacking an individual drug than helping the substance abuser holistically. As ecstasy users may be poly-drug users, and poly-drug use is particularly dangerous, a structured rehab intervention will likely be necessary in most cases.
Getting ecstasy addiction treatment
At The Recovery Village we believe that it takes a “village” to treat substance abuse. Whether you, or your loved one, have been abusing MDMA/ecstasy alone or in combination with other drugs, our multidisciplinary treatment approach can address the many factors involved in the abuse. No two clients are the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Our rehab services are individually tailored to meet each client’s individual needs. We are here to provide you with every opportunity available for a successful recovery.