Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychiatric condition that involves extreme dissatisfaction with appearance. This dissatisfaction can be based on a flaw that is real or imagined, but is usually exaggerated and causes significant distress to the individual. Body dysmorphic disorder is considered similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, given the obsessive and intrusive nature of appearance-related thoughts.
Substance use and abuse is relatively common in body dysmorphic disorder and can be seen as a way to cope with or “escape” body dysmorphic disorder symptoms. MDMA or ecstasy impact chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin, that produce positive feelings. MDMA use in body dysmorphic disorder may seem like a temporary solution but can make symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder worse and treatment more complicated.
Learning about the relationship between MDMA and body dysmorphic disorder can be important in understanding the risks, side effects and impact on symptoms that the drug has on the disorder.
Does MDMA or Ecstasy Cause Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
The causes of body dysmorphic disorder are complex and are not usually tied to one factor. There are various genetic, environmental and personal factors that can contribute to the development of body dysmorphic disorder. Estimates of the rates of body dysmorphic disorder in the general population range from 0.7% to 2.4% and are relatively equal among men and women.
Although there are many factors that contribute to body dysmorphic disorder, some side effects of MDMA or ecstasy may aggravate symptoms of the condition. The relationship between MDMA and body dysmorphic disorder can be different depending on the person. While MDMA or ecstasy is unlikely to be the sole cause of body dysmorphic disorder, it may make symptoms worse while the drug is in effect or after the effects have worn off.
Taking MDMA may increase symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, but may also be an example of self-medicating for existing body dysmorphic disorder. Although this can make it difficult to tell whether MDMA use or body dysmorphic disorder comes first, there is no evidence that MDMA or ecstasy would cause body dysmorphic disorder without other risk factors.
Can MDMA Use Impact Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Taking MDMA can alter mood and perception and can temporarily impact the signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. Whether this is a positive or negative experience may depend on the person.
For example, MDMA can increase feelings of anxiety, depression or irritability that can contribute to body dysmorphic disorder symptoms. Anxiety can increase intrusive thoughts or behaviors that are characteristic of body dysmorphic disorder. People may also feel low after the effects of MDMA wear off, and this can make body dysmorphic disorder symptoms worse.
Some people report temporary relief from symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder when taking MDMA. MDMA impacts chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin that produce positive feelings. These effects on the brain may make people feel temporarily less concerned or preoccupied with their appearance.
However, it’s important to note that this relief is temporary and does not address the underlying causes of body dysmorphic disorder. Taking MDMA as a coping strategy can have serious risks, including overdose or addiction to the drug. It can also prevent a person from seeking proper treatment, which can delay their recovery and allow symptoms to progress.
Is MDMA Used to Treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder can be difficult to treat, and researchers are constantly testing new methods for body dysmorphic disorder treatments. While there is some early research into MDMA treatment for some psychiatric conditions, this is not an approved or recommended treatment strategy.
There are many treatment facilities around the country that offer evidence-based, effective treatments for body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder treatment centers may offer inpatient or outpatient treatment services that include therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These strategies can help to address underlying thoughts or beliefs related to body dysmorphic disorder and help to develop strategies for recovery.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly).” June 2018. Accessed September 7, 2019.
Yazar-Klosinski, B; Mithoefer, MC. “Potential Psychiatric Uses for MDMA.” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, February 2017. Accessed September 7, 2019.
Bjornsson, Andri S; et al. “Body dysmorphic disorder.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2010. Accessed September 7, 2019.