Beating Ecstasy addiction
What is ecstasy? In the short term, a range of adverse events can be experienced, some fatal.
- The street drug known as ecstasy is one of the most commonly used illegal drugs in the UK after cannabis and cocaine.
- Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, X, Superman, and XTC, is an illicit drug with stimulant effects.
- Ecstasy may heighten your senses, make you feel energised and less inhibited, so more talkative, social and connected to others.
- Ecstasy comes in pill, powder and crystal form.
- Pills, typically developed in different colours with pictures or logo stamps, are usually swallowed, but some individuals may grind up the drug for consumption through the nose.
- The main ingredient of ecstasy is MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a psychoactive substance derived from safrole oil.
- Because ecstasy production is unregulated, there is no control over ingredients and the quality or safety of those ingredients.
- A dose of ecstasy may not contain any MDMA but rather a wide range of drugs or fillers such as caffeine, amphetamines, LSD, or cocaine. Ecstasy increases the chance of overdose, poisoning or other adverse reaction.
Consumption of ecstasy may also have long-term consequences.
Here we explore what ecstasy is, its effects, potential for abuse and support available for those suffering from an addiction to the drug.
Is ecstasy addictive?
Ecstasy stimulates your central nervous system, which causes the release of high levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with pleasure and reward.
When your brain becomes reliant on ecstasy for the release of dopamine, a dependence on the drug may develop.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that long term use of MDMA may lead to physical dependence.
However, other sources suggest that while tolerance can develop, significant withdrawal syndrome might not occur after chronic ecstasy use.
Without a formally recognised withdrawal syndrome, it is debatable whether you will develop a physical dependence on ecstasy.
Psychological vs physical
However, this does not mean that psychological dependence doesn’t develop, which can be just as problematic.
Discontinuation of the drug is associated with distressing symptoms, emotional and psychological, that might drive you to seek out ecstasy again (or other drugs).
Chronic use floods your brain with neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When you stop using the drug, the levels of these neurotransmitters drop dramatically.
This results in significant emotional distress and even suicidality.
MDMA’s impact on your brain can cause the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Memory loss
- Attention issues
- Jaw clenching
- Joint and muscle stiffness
- A rise in body temperature
Signs of ecstasy addiction/abuse
If you are using ecstasy regularly, the drug may start to produce adaptations in your brain’s serotonin and dopamine systems associated with a substance use disorder.
This condition is characterised by issues with controlling frequency and amount of use.
Symptoms of an ecstasy addiction
- Deciding to stop using ecstasy but finding yourself unable to despite being convinced you can
- Using more ecstasy or for more extended periods than you planned
- Spending a significant amount of your time using ecstasy, procuring the drug, or recovering from use
- Emotional distress or mental impairment
- Continuing to use ecstasy despite the consequences to your professional and personal lives
- Losing interest in things you enjoy spending time doing; and
- Experiencing intense cravings to use ecstasy
Longer-term use of ecstasy can cause emotional, behavioural, and physiological issues.
According to NIDA, APA, and ASAM, these include the following:
- Because the use of ecstasy results in heightened energy levels, once the drug is out of your system, you will most likely become lethargic and depressed, experience irritability and a desire to isolate yourself.
- Ecstasy stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, the body’s fight or flight response, preparing the body to survive a threat. In the case of ecstasy use, this results in your body overheating and sweating profusely, leading to extreme dehydration.
- You may experience periodic issues with confusion and memory loss, and even hallucinations. Due to the repeated flooding of the brain with neurotransmitters followed by neurotransmitter depletion, some of these issues may become permanent.
Risks of ecstasy abuse
Ecstasy depletes serotonin levels in your brain because it enhances the release and activity of serotonin from specific neurons.
Because serotonin plays an essential part in maintaining your vital bodily functions, impaired serotonin neurotransmission can result in severe psychological concerns and cognitive impairments for long periods after use has ended.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that if you keep using ecstasy, you may develop problems including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Insomnia, poor concentration
- Impulsivity, loss of appetite; and heart disease
The number of people who die from ecstasy is low compared to other substances such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol and tranquillisers.
However, several people in the UK die from issues related to ecstasy or ecstasy-type drugs every year.
Signs of an ecstasy overdose
When taken to excess, ecstasy produces life-threatening side effects.
If you take 1–2 tablets at once or over a short period, this dramatically increases the risk of overdosing.
The amount of the active ingredient in ecstasy, MDMA, will vary from pill to pill and maybe cut with other drugs that produce harmful side effects.
This will make it difficult to know if you are taking too much of the drug, potentially leading to accidental overdose.
Ecstasy intoxication affects multiple body systems.
An ecstasy overdose is when the adverse side effects of the drug advance in intensity.
The intensity leads to more dangerous conditions, including renal failure and cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthermia, very high blood pressure, fainting, loss of consciousness, seizures and even death.
Ecstasy addiction rehab
Untreated addiction to ecstasy abuse may become worse over time and lead to long-term problems affecting your relationships with friends and family, ability to carry out day to day activities, work performance, as well as your general wellbeing and quality of life.
Addiction to ecstasy or stopping without treatment may lead to secondary addictions to other substances and behavioural addictions.
These may include alcohol, food, sex or gambling. According to one study, ecstasy users were significantly more likely to use marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and heroin.
However, ecstasy addiction is treatable.
The first step in finding freedom is to seek specialist help, support and treatment that works for you.
The first step in your treatment for ecstasy addiction may be a physical detox that often happens in an inpatient setting for safety.
Depending on your needs, detoxes can be medical or social.
A medical detox means you will receive supervision and medication to help you through the withdrawal process.
Detox is often the best option if you also struggle with dependence on another substance, leading to complications or fatalities if stopped abruptly.
Social detox relies on peer support to help you through the withdrawal from ecstasy.
Suppose you decide that inpatient treatment is proper for you post-detox (if detox is necessary). In that case, you will stay in a treatment centre for the duration of your care, which can last anywhere from 30-90 days depending on finances, the treatment programme and recommendations by your care team.
During inpatient treatment, you might participate in a wide range of therapies such as individual counselling, group work, 12-step meetings and holistic therapies like acupuncture or yoga.
If you cannot commit to a residential stay due to personal or professional commitments, outpatient treatment programs may suit you better.
Outpatient programs work well if you have a strong support network and don’t require round the clock care that inpatient options provide.
Outpatient treatments are characterised by individual counselling and support groups, and you may attend once a week or several times per week, depending on your needs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with ecstasy addiction, contact us today to get help. A life free of drugs is possible.
Get in touch today
If you need emergency mental health advice or medical support, please call the NHS 24 helpline as soon as possible on 111. The advice is free and could save your life.
You’ll be glad you did.