Friday September 30th 2016

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Is ecstasy addictive?

Yes, ecstasy can be addictive.

While physical dependence is less frequent than psychological symptoms of addiction, research on the addictive potential of ecstasy (MDMA) has shown that some people are likely to become addicted to ecstasy. But what is it that makes ecstasy addictive and how addictive is it really? And how do you know that you’ve become addicted to ecstasy or not?  We review these questions here and invite your questions about the addictive potential of ecstasy or how you can treat ecstasy addiction at the end.

What is ecstasy used for?

Ecstasy was first patented as an as an experimental compound in 1914 by the German Company Merck. Later in the 1970s, it was rediscovered by psychiatrists and therapists and used extensively in psychotherapy. It got even more widely used in the 1980s as an adjunct to individual, group and couples therapies. In fact, between 1977 and 1985 more than one million patients suffering from trauma, depression and similar were treated with ecstasy. But has therapeutic use of ecstasy continued?

No. Ecstasy is not used in medicine at this time. However, the use of ecstasy has significantly increased, especially in the past few decades. While some suggest that ecstasy is primarily used recreationally for its psychedelic effects particularly when clubbing, others claim that many use it for the purpose of self-medication of stressful life situations. However, ecstasy affects the brain, and long term effects include changes in behavior, personality, and psychology.

What is ecstasy made of?

Ecstasy is a Schedule I controlled substance classified as an empathogen, entactogen, psychedelic, appetite suppressant, mild CNS stimulant and hallucinogen. It is a derivative of amphetamine that also has some of mescaline’s pharmacological properties. The colorful tablets sold under the name of ecstasy usually contain 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA). These ecstasy tablets can also be found mixed with other substances such as caffeine, ephedrine, dextromethorphan, methamphetamine and ketamine and sometimes even LSD or heroin.

How addictive is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is addictive to the extent that it affects the same neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) as those affected by some highly addictive drugs. Ecstasy alters the chemical responses of these neurotransmitters, resulting in altered effects of the brain. However, compared to other narcotics, ecstasy is less habit forming and does not usually lead to physical dependence. Instead, regular patterns of use can indicate psychological addiction to MDMA. Why is this?

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When under the influence of ecstasy, people experience higher sensations of stimulation and increased emotional intimacy and empathy.
After persistent, regular, or binge use of ecstasy, increases in dosage are typical. However, most symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal resolve after acute use.  So, withdrawal symptoms such as depression, loss of appetite, fatigue, and mood disorders are usually tied to a specific period of dosing.

Ecstasy dependence vs. addiction

An ecstasy addict is not necessarily someone who is dependent on ecstasy. While it might sound confusing, it is important to distinguish between addiction and dependence as two separate clinical conditions. Addiction to ecstasy happens when there is a behavioral pattern associated with the use of ecstasy despite its harmful effects on the body. An ecstasy addict would spend a great deal of time trying to obtain the drug and would compulsively use it and be unable to control the desire for more and more.

Ecstasy dependence, in contrast, happens when there is an adaptation to the drug’s presence in the body and the person dependent to it will function normally only when on the drug. What are symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal? Withdrawal from MDMA can provoke anxiety, confusion, depression, trouble concentrating, as well as a number of physical symptoms. That said, cases of physical dependence on ecstasy are rare, and a person obsessively using ecstasy may not be dependent to it.

How do you get addicted to ecstasy?

Addiction to ecstasy usually occurs over time. After initial drug exposure, continued use can be gradual or extreme. However, ecstasy addicts experience common indicators that they are in trouble. Some signs of ecstasy addiction can include:

  • continued use of ecstasy despite negative consequences to social, work, or health
  • craving ecstasy
  • loss of control of frequency of use, dosing amounts, or not being able to stop taking ecstasy
  • needing more and more ecstasy to feel the effects of the drug
  • obsessively thinking of ecstasy

Keep in mind that each person addicted to ecstasy has a different background and each case depends on a number of individual factors. Being able to easily obtain the drug and spending time with people who often use it increase risk potential for developing an addiction. Another personal trait that could indicate how likely one is to get addicted to ecstasy is a tendency to use addictive and harmful substances or having someone like  that in the family.

Ecstasy addiction potential questions

Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you feel that you be addicted to ecstasy. Or, if you have additional questions about the addiction potential of ecstasy, please write to us in the comment section below. We will gladly answer your inquiries personally and promptly or refer you to someone who can do so in case we do not know the answer.

Reference Sources: U.S. Department of Justice: Drug data sheets on ecstasy
NCBI: The Role of MDMA (Ecstasy) in Coping with Negative Life Situations Among Urban Young Adults
NCBI: Modifiable risk factors of ecstasy use: risk perception, current dependence, perceived control, and depression
NCBI: The pharmacology and toxicology of “ecstasy” (MDMA) and related drugs
NHTSA: Methylenedioxymethamphetamine
NIH: Is MDMA addictive

Photo credit: MNN

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