Ecstasy is a popular synthetic drug that shares properties with both stimulants and hallucinogens.
Most commonly known as MDMA or “Molly,” ecstasy has a number of street names including Scooby Snacks, Vitamin E, Vitamin X, Adam, Happy Pill, E, and XTC. The drug also has a number of slang terms used its use including thizzing, rolling, raving, and flipping.
Ecstasy is typically taken orally as a capsule or tablet—although some crush and snort the pills—and its effects last approximately three to six hours. The pills are often brightly colored with designs or pictures on them. It is not uncommon for users to take a second dose of the drug to keep the high going, or to mix the drug with other substances in order to strengthen its effects. A variant of methamphetamines, ecstasy produces dangerous side effects almost immediately that are often enhanced by the user’s surroundings. Although ecstasy has been around for quite some time, the rising popularity of electronic music festivals, raves, and other similar events has caused MDMA to resurface in the spotlight as a cause for concern. Click here to learn more about different types of club drugs that are sweeping the nation.
In recent years, ecstasy use has steadily increased, especially among younger individuals who go out to clubs and other party atmospheres. About 5.7 percent of people living in the United States over the age of 12 report having used ecstasy at least once in their lives. In 2009, approximately 1.1 million individuals reported using ecstasy in the past year for the first time, with about 760,000 reporting having used it within the past month. This number represents a dramatic increase in use of ecstasy in the United States. In the previous year, 894,000 people reported using ecstasy for the first time. That number continues to grow.
Signs & Symptoms
Ecstasy’s effects are experienced almost instantaneously and can produce a wide range of symptoms based on the environment in which it is used. People use ecstasy for its euphoric, intoxicating effects which include heightened sensory perception, more energy, and increased sexual activity. These effects often put individuals in life-threatening situations, especially in the party-atmosphere situations in which the drug is often used. Ecstasy increases users’ body temperature, sometimes reaching lethal heights when compounded by hours of dancing at clubs, raves, or festivals. When an individual’s body temperature gets too high, their organs may begin to breakdown.
Ecstasy causes a variety of signs and symptoms including:
- Blurred vision
- Increased heart rate/blood pressure
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
Ecstasy primarily affects the brain and has been known to cause long-term damage. The drug works by increasing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which in turn causes many emotional and pro-social effects. The release of these chemicals in the brain often makes users feel a sense of “closeness” to those around them, including complete strangers. This may make users feel more sexually aroused, more trusting, or “in love” with those around them, which can often put users in dangerous social situations.
As an individual comes down from the effects of ecstasy, they may begin to experience confusion, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings. This can occur immediately after taking the drug or during the days and weeks following use. Long-term ecstasy users often experience sleep abnormalities and problems with memory and attention, but these symptoms tend to be more common in users who combine the drug with other illicit substances.
Withdrawing from Ecstasy
Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms have not been thoroughly documented, but it is highly probable that users become both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. Whether an individual uses ecstasy recreationally or chronically, withdrawal symptoms can present themselves differently depending on a number of factors.
- Frequency of use: Individuals who use ecstasy on a frequent basis are more likely to develop an addiction and consequently experience withdrawal symptoms. Ecstasy is known to alter the brain and how it functions, which can make it more difficult for the brain to readjust once ecstasy has passed out of the system.
- Time span of use: An individual who has used ecstasy over a longe period of time is more likely to develop withdrawal symptoms. Infrequent use can produce withdrawal effects, but longer periods of abuse make it more difficult for an individual to abstain.
- Dosage: Ecstasy dosages can range anywhere between 80mg and 160mg per pill. In higher doses, its effects are intensified as well as the withdrawal symptoms. The more ecstasy is used, the greater the subsequent depletion of serotonin.
Most of the withdrawal symptoms individuals experience are related to depleted levels of serotonin. Over time, the brain will work to restore serotonin, but the process can take days. Withdrawal from ecstasy is dependent on individual circumstances such as how it was consumed, dosage, frequency of use, and other factors that influence addictive behaviors. An individual who is withdrawing from ecstasy may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Panic attacks
Treatment for Ecstasy Addiction
Ecstasy use is dangerous and can put an individual in potentially life-threatening situations. Most treatment for ecstasy addiction is designed to address the underlying causes of use including behaviors, thought processes, and expectations. More often than not, ecstasy and other stimulant drugs are abused in specific environments and used as a means of relating to peers, alleviating social discomfort, and enhancing experiences. The environment in which it is used reveals a great deal about motivations for abuse and can help identify more effective methods of addressing addiction during treatment. Ecstasy is a drug that is most frequently abused by adolescents and young adults, which further reveals age-specific influences that must be addressed in treatment.
Treatment for ecstasy abuse focuses primarily on cognitive behavioral therapies, as well as overcoming physical and psychological dependencies that may have developed over time. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) works to identify influences in substance abuse and help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms for stressors and other factors that contribute to dangerous behaviors. Furthermore, individualizing this form of therapy can help address the more unique circumstances that influence addiction and negative behaviors.
to the environments in which ecstasy is usually abused, many treatment facilities incorporate experiential therapies as a method of changing the behaviors and thoughts that often accompany use. Experiential therapy provides therapeutic benefits in real-world situations, allowing individuals to naturally respond to stimuli and immediately see how they can apply lessons learned to their daily lives. By working outside of traditional therapeutic environments, individuals engaged with this form of therapy respond more naturally to different influences, allowing treatment staff the ability to see specifically what needs to be addressed. This form of therapy is very effective in treating ecstasy addiction because it provides young adults with new experiences that may lead to new, healthy hobbies, while allowing them to see immediately how changing their behavior and developing better coping mechanisms can positively impact their daily lives.
Due to ecstasy’s effect on the brain, dual-diagnosis programs are a critical component of addiction treatment. In some cases a co-occurring mental health disorder may exist prior to substance abuse, while in others, they may develop as a result of the drug’s affect on the brain. Many studies show that ecstasy can cause brain damage and memory loss, as well as other dysfunctions. Dual-diagnosis can identify and address the influence of co-occurring disorders on use of and addiction to illicit substances. Whether substance abuse develops as a means of self-medicating for a previously existing mental health disorder or a result of chronic drug use, a dual-diagnosis treatment plan can be tailored to address the unique needs of the individual, improving the success rates of long-term sobriety. These therapies help individuals in numerous ways, giving them the necessary tools to sustain sobriety. This includes developing ways to avoid peer pressure, build self-esteem, and create positive thought patterns. While these skills improve the overall treatment experience, they also build a foundation for a new, healthy lifestyle that supports sobriety in life after treatment.