Ecstasy is a habit-forming, synthetic hallucinogen and stimulant that comes in tablet, capsule or pill form. Although ecstasy is composed of the chemical 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, it goes by several names including "molly," "E," "XTC," "X," "beans," and "adam." The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that there are approximately 9 million ecstasy users worldwide, mostly consisting of teens and young adults.
Ecstasy - Molly Timeline: Use and Abuse
The designer drug ecstasy was first created in Germany in 1912. After decades of debate over its potential use, it was deemed to have no beneficial medical purpose. In 1985 it was federally banned and carried legal penalties similar to possession or trafficking of cocaine or LSD. Despite the ban, in 2011 the National Institute on Drug Abuse polled high school seniors, 36% of whom reported it was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain.
Ecstasy gained recreational popularity in the 1990s, primarily as a "party drug" used in nightclubs and at dance parties. Since then, the scope of the drug's availability has broadened to use by college students at parties, raves or even privately in the home and on college campuses. Emergency room reports indicate that since ecstasy has become the drug of choice for raves, concerts and clubs, doctors have seen more than a 1,200% increase in ecstasy-related visits. There have been several MDMA-related deaths reported at raves as well.
Understanding Ecstasy Withdrawal
During use, MDMA can lead to a state of euphoria, diminished inhibitions, heightened sensory arousal, heightened sexual arousal, increased energy, and/or a loss of orientation to time. In addition to these effects desired by the user, there are several unintended consequences in both the long and short term – increased heart rate and blood pressure, hot and cold flashes, tightness of the muscles, particularly of the mouth and/or jaw, and increased body temperature accompanied by subsequent bodily complications; these complications can occur as a result of the drug itself, and the risks are increased by the lack of control over the substance's production. Because the substance is not controlled it is unclear what the exact chemical composition of the substance is, or how much MDMA was used in its production.
Ecstasy, although dangerous during use in its own right, does not lead to obvious withdrawal symptoms. MDMA affects the chemical balance inside the brain, having a marked impact on many of the brain's neurotransmitters, particularly the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is regarded for having control over the body's mood balance, particularly happiness and well-being, which may explain some of the euphoric effects of ecstasy. In a similar vein, serotonin also controls muscle tightness, and the regulation of nerve cell impulses, accounting for MDMA's less desirable effects.
It is now thought that when ecstasy abusers "come down" from the drug, they experience the symptoms associated with depleted serotonin – depression, memory loss, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and moreover, a continuous desire for MDMA in order to stimulate serotonin production. Teens and young adults who abuse ecstasy often suffer from these aftereffects, and their withdrawal becomes confused with mood disorders resembling their symptoms. When abuse has been extensive, the aftereffects of MDMA can be long lasting. Although some regard the mood effects as largely reversible, many believe that the memory and learning impairments are more permanent.
How to Break the Habit
MDMA or ecstasy is a designer drug similar to methamphetamine and a hallucinogen known as mescaline. Ecstasy addiction can be quite overwhelming. Regardless of the physical or psychological dangers that its abusers knowingly face, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 43% of ecstasy abusers will continue to abuse the drug, due to its addictive properties. Individuals who abuse MDMA may not want to break the cycle, however, they put themselves at great risk. Often, friends or loved ones will need to intervene and suggest treatment options.
Choosing the right treatment: A variety of treatment options are available to individuals who suffer from ecstasy addiction, including inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient treatments and 12-step programs. Often Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is applied to treatment in order to help the user understand the addiction and its origins.
Making the environmental change: While there must always be a plan in place for recovery, there must also be an environmental change. With any addiction comes the everyday challenge of avoiding a relapse. Addicts must change not only the way in which they think about the substance and addiction but also the situations in which they find themselves daily. Breaking the life-altering and potentially fatal ecstasy addiction will require changes in lifestyle inclusive of recreational activities conducted both inside and outside of the home. This is because MDMA has become culturally ingrained; the drug has become a pervasive part of the club and party scene. Those places, which may serve as a trigger for former addicts will need to be avoided for recovery to be enduring.
Taking the necessary medical steps: At times, medical intervention may also be necessary to treat some of the effects of ecstasy addiction. The depression that results from the depletion of serotonin can be treated with medication. Organ damage resulting from changes in changes in body temperature can be treated medically, as well.
Ecstasy addiction is dangerous. MDMA produces effects that place its abusers into a distorted reality. It engenders a sense of euphoria that detracts from everyday life, leaving the sufferers depressed, worrisome, and confused and without the neurotransmitter necessary to restore chemical balance. For this reason, ecstasy abusers return to the substance time and again in a search for that sense of euphoria and ultimately, to restore the body's chemical ability to feel happiness.
MDMA abuse can lead to both physiological and psychological complications. While the damage is sometimes reversible, it can be permanent if abuse has been extended and severe. If seeking help, sufferers should remember to avoid triggers or familiar situations in which they would have found themselves using the ecstasy. It is important that those who suffer from ecstasy addiction know the risk and symptoms. Moreover, it is paramount that they seek medical attention, psychological help, and turn to loved ones for social support as soon as possible. Although there are no specific treatments for MDMA abuse, the most effective treatments for drug abuse and addiction in general are cognitive behavioral therapies that are designed to help modify the patient's thinking, expectancies, and behaviors, and to increase skills in coping with life's stressors. Drug abuse recovery support groups may be effective in combination with behavioral interventions to support long-term, drug-free recovery. There are currently no pharmacological treatments for dependence on MDMA.