Ecstasy/MDMA Addiction and Abuse

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MDMA, which stands for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is a synthetic drug that is popularly known as “ecstasy.” The drug produces psychoactive effects, meaning it influences perception, and works as a hybrid between a stimulant and hallucinogen. People who take the drug experience an increase in energy and heightened emotional sensitivity, and the neurotransmitter serotonin is released in the brain, which causes a short-term, elevated mood. The drug can also serve as an antidepressant for a very short amount of time.

This is a main reason that people become dependent on ecstasy/MDMA and begin misusing the drug. When people experience the feelings of happiness and heightened emotional sensitivity, they associate the drug psychologically to positive experiences. As people take the drug more often, a physical dependence forms. The brain relies on MDMA’s presence to know when to release serotonin. When the drug is not present, the brain might not release this important chemical and people may experience long stretches of depression or negative thoughts. As people continue to take ecstasy, this connection to happiness becomes stronger and more difficult to break.

Ecstasy/MDMA is a powerful drug, and physical and psychological reliance on the substance has prevented many people from enjoying their lives to the fullest potential. However, many people who once experienced this substance abuse disorder improved their quality of life by completing a drug rehabilitation program.

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction to ecstasy/MDMA, speaking with someone from The Recovery Village could be the way toward a healthier future. The first step is identifying whether addiction is present. To do so, you should know what ecstasy/MDMA is, how addictive the drug can be, the signs and symptoms of this substance use disorder, and the next steps in the recovery process.

MDMA can be in tablet or powder form, and that physical difference is how to differentiate ecstasy and “Molly.” Ecstasy is the tablet and is usually in different colors. Molly, which produces similar effects, is the powder version of MDMA. Additionally, “Molly” can be altered much easier than ecstasy.

MDMA increases the activity of three brain chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Dopamine creates a euphoric feeling and increased energy. Norepinephrine increases a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. Serotonin increases emotional closeness and elevates a person’s mood, which often leads to lack of sleep or appetite and a higher sex drive. Once MDMA is taken, it takes around 15 minutes to travel through the bloodstream and reach the brain. The effects then last between three and six hours.

Since ecstasy/MDMA is illegal, the drug has many street names to mask its unlawful sale and purchase. Knowing the street names could help identify if a loved one is misusing ecstasy/MDMA. Some of the most common street names people might hear or read on the Internet include:

    • Adam
    • Beans
    • Cadillac
    • California Sunrise
    • Clarity
    • Essence
    • Eve
    • Hug Drug
    • Love Drug
    • Lover’s Speed
    • Peace
    • Snowball
    • Uppers

Medical experts have differing opinions on whether MDMA/ecstasy is addictive. Experiments with animals have shown that they will self-administer MDMA either for physical or psychological dependence, which is a sign of a drug’s addictive potential. However, the test subjects’ reliance on and frequency of self-administering the drug is less than other illegal and highly addictive drugs, such as cocaine or meth.

Some people reported withdrawal symptoms, which is a sign of addiction to a substance, but different drugs vary in their level of addictiveness. While some substances are highly addictive, others cause a dependence to a much lesser degree. Additionally, each person who misuses a drug is different and will respond to each drug in a unique way, causing different effects and levels of addiction.

While the level of addiction for ecstasy/MDMA is unclear, medical experts do not recommend taking the drug consistently or in large doses. There is a possibility of addiction and a high risk of overdose due to the seemingly positive effects the drug often provides.

Knowing some of the signs and symptoms of ecstasy addiction is an important step to recognizing if someone suffers from the substance use disorder. It’s possible that some of these effects may be due to the combined use of MDMA with other drugs, notably marijuana or alcohol. Combining drugs with ecstasy/MDMA is not limited to those two substances, though. Since MDMA increases trust and closeness for people, many pair it with sildenafil (Viagra) for an increased sex drive and unique sexual experiences. If someone suddenly starts taking Viagra, either with or without a prescription, this is a potential sign of ecstasy misuse, especially if they have reported becoming more sexually active and with numerous partners.

There are some commonly associated behavioral changes for people when they begin misusing ecstasy/MDMA. Noticing these can help identify when recreational use of the drug becomes an addiction and something that should be addressed.

One of the most notable is that people who consistently misuse ecstasy often begin going to new hangout locations and enter a new social group. This is a major sign of any drug misuse and addiction, not just MDMA. Other notable behavioral changes to look for include:

  • Hostile mood
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Uncooperative attitude
  • Worsening performance at school or work

People who have reported withdrawal effects from MDMA/ecstasy said they experienced all or most of the following:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Impulsiveness and aggression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Memory loss
  • Problems concentrating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased pleasure from sex

Some of the psychological effects that could happen from ecstasy addiction include depression and anxiety. These mental health disorders form because people grow reliant on ecstasy to produce positive feelings and happiness. Whenever the drug leaves their system, the body does not produce enough serotonin and instead is overwhelmed with negative thoughts and emotions.

cocaine drug interaction
There are many risks that people take when misusing ecstasy/MDMA. Most come from a possible psychological and physical dependence on the drug and how that can affect their mood and relationships. However, there are short-term dangers associated to any drug misuse, and ecstasy is no exception.

High doses of MDMA can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. When this happens, people can experience a dangerous spike in temperature that often results in liver, kidney or heart failure, which can lead to death.

MDMA was first introduced to the medical world in the 1970s as an aid in psychotherapy. The drug treated for mental illness by helping patients feel comfortable talking to therapists and working through anxiety or depression. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not approve the drug and in 1985 the Drug Enforcement Administration labeled MDMA as an illegal drug with no recognized medicinal use.

However, ecstasy/MDMA has not gone away. Despite being illegal, the drug is popular with young adults and teenagers. According to the NIDA, around 1.5 percent of eighth-graders have taken ecstasy/MDMA at least once. Around 2.8 percent of tenth-graders have taken the drug, and nearly 5 percent of high school seniors have misused it at least once. Around 11.6 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 reportedly took the drug at least once in their life. The drug is commonly associated with nightclubs and all-night dance parties, which are also called “raves.”

Some scientists and researchers remain interested in the drug’s potential as a psychotherapy treatment tool, but only when given to patients in extremely controlled conditions. The NIDA also states that MDMA is currently in trials as a possible treatment option for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in terminally ill patients, and as treatment for social anxiety in autistic adults.

Ecstasy/MDMA treatment is available throughout the country. The largest obstacles are recognizing if treatment is necessary and locating the appropriate rehabilitation program to fit a person’s needs.

Since ecstasy/MDMA is a psychoactive drug and has such a big impact on a person’s emotions, co-occurring disorders could result from misuse. Ecstasy promotes a euphoric high and feelings of closeness for people, in part due to the serotonin released, and the lack of ecstasy could create depression or anxiety disorders as people learn to cope with finding happiness without the drug.

Finding a rehab program that also treats for these co-occurring mental health disorders is extremely important to a successful recovery from any drug addiction. The Recovery Village is one such treatment option and has  experienced medical staff with extensive knowledge of the mental health issues plaguing the United States.

Have you or a loved one misused  ecstasy/MDMA? Have you experienced any of the associated withdrawal symptoms once the drug leaves your system? If so, know that you are not in this struggle alone. Many people have sought ecstasy/MDMA treatment and learned of ways to cope with their substance use disorder. The Recovery Village’s team of doctors and nurses can provide a safe and supportive setting for your or your loved one’s rehabilitation from drug addiction. Call today and begin on the path toward a healthier life.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.