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Physical addiction to ecstasy

Do you suspect that you or someone you know has a problem with ecstasy (MDMA)? How can you be sure?

First of all, in order to address ecstasy issues properly, one needs to be able to tell the difference between physical dependence and psychological dependence. And while the effects of ecstasy are often benign, regular use can lead to changes in the central nervous system.

Here, we review the signs that differentiate addiction from dependence and explain what treatment options are available. At the end, we invite you to ask questions or leave your comments about physical addiction to ecstasy. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions with a personal and prompt reply.

Physical dependence on ecstasy

Physical dependence on a chemical happens when the body becomes so accustomed to the presence of a drug that it manifests withdrawal symptoms upon quitting or lowering doses. Physical dependence happens after repetitive use…but can dependence be triggered by ecstasy use? Yes, while uncommon, it IS POSSIBLE to become physically dependent on MDMA for normal function. In fact, dependence is signaled by the presence of withdrawal symptoms. So, what happens in the body when you become physically dependent on ecstasy?

Ecstasy is the common name for a chemical called MDMA, which is short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. MDMA is a Schedule I drug, which means that it is considered by the U.S. Federal government to have no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.  MDMA targets the same neurotransmitters that other addictive drugs targets. And while researchers are still working to understand MDMA, users have reported symptoms that occur after regular use of the drug is reduced or stopped. These can include:

  • depression
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble concentrating

While dependence is a physical need for ecstasy, addiction, on the other hand, is a state of mind causing cravings that do not necessarily indicate physical need. The difference can be hard to discern, as physical dependence and addiction oftentimes go hand in hand. Determining whether it’s a case of dependence or addiction to ecstasy is crucial in order to proceed with a proper treatment.

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Is physical dependence on MDMA really possible?

Yes.

How does MDMA work in the brain? It increases the activity of at least three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Like other stimulants, MDMA causes these neurotransmitters to be released from their storage sites in neurons, resulting in increased activity. The resulting high is the main reason why people take ecstasy.  But, when used regularly, MDMA can trigger changes in the brain. While the mechanisms of dependence are not quite understood, what experts look at are the accompanying symptoms.

Some studies have shown that – over the course of a week following moderate use of the drug – many MDMA users experience a range of emotions. These emotions commonly include anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and sadness…even clinical depression. Similarly, regular MDMA users have reported elevated anxiety, impulsiveness, and aggression, as well as sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, and reduced interest in and pleasure from sex. Even more, some heavy MDMA users experience long lasting confusion, depression, and selective impairment of working memory and attention processes.

Possible signs of addiction to ecstasy

Certain signs can help you confirm if an addiction problem is present, or not. To recognize addiction to ecstasy look for the following clues:

  • inability to quit and control ecstasy use
  • persistent use of MDMA despite physical and psychological harm
  • prioritizing ecstasy over all activities
  • spending money and time thinking how to obtain ecstasy
  • taking more ecstasy than intended

If you or someone you know experiences any of the following, you may want to seek assessment for possible problems with ecstasy.

Treating physical symptoms of addiction to ecstasy

It is of utmost importance that you address and seek help for ecstasy dependence and/or addiction if you recognize some of the clues listed above. While there is no pharmacological treatment for addiction to ecstasy as of yet, there are other types of treatments that could considerably ease and benefit the recovery and help you maintain abstinence. For instance, psychosocial and behavioral approaches are helpful when it comes to tackling the root of the problem and reinforcing behavioral changes, while peer support groups are helpful on the long run offering encouragement, guidance, and mutual understanding.

However, the recovery process should begin with a detox phase so as to rid your central nervous system and body of  accumulated toxins after repetitive MDMA use. During this stage, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. It is advised that you consult a doctor prior to commencing an ecstasy detox regime and learn what is the most suitable way for you to cut off drug intake. Detox clinics can also offer help in treating the effects of withdrawal from ecstasy use, especially the psychological or social symptoms which can manifest. Detox treatments in combination with  psychosocial/behavioral treatment and support groups show the most promise.

Physically addicted to ecstasy questions

In this article, we have tried to explain the difference between physical dependence and addiction to ecstasy, as well as how to recognize and treat addiction. If you still need some clarification about the physical symptoms of ecstasy addiction we encourage you to ask questions in the comments section below. We will do our best to answer all relevant questions personally and promptly.

Reference sources: NIDA for Teens: MDMA, Ecstasy, or Molly
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Test retest reliability of DSM-IV adopted criteria for MDMA abuse and dependence: A cross-national study
NIDA Notes: What does ecstasy do to the brain?
NIDA: Drug Facts: Molly
NIDA: The difference between physical dependence and addiction
San Luis Obisbo County: Treatment Implications

Photo credit: National Institue of Drug Abuse

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