ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Ecstasy is a popular club drug used to “enhance” experiences of love and community. There’s little risk of physical dependence, however, regular use can result in mental health issues. Luckily, help can be found. If you or a loved one is addicted to ecstasy, this article seeks to give all the advice you need to find help. We invite your questions at the end. We try to reply to each of them personally and promptly.
Table of Contents:
- Ecstasy in the Brain
- Is Ecstasy Addiction Possible?
- Dependence or Addiction?
- Helping Address Denial
- Intervention Basics
- Help During Detox
- Help During Treatment
- How Many People Struggle?
- Referrals to Help (Where to Find Help)
- How to Support a Friend
- Your Questions
Ecstasy in the Brain
Ecstasy (or E) is the street name for the drug containing 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, shortened to MDMA. It works in the brain by increasing three brain chemicals:
- Dopamine. When you take ecstasy, dopamine floods the brain and results in increased energy. Dopamine also acts in the reward system to reinforce behaviors.
- Norepinephrine. When you drop E, this neurotransmitter sends signals in the body to increase heart rate and blood pressure. This is why MDMA can be risky for people with heart and blood vessel problems.
- Serotonin. This chemical affects mood, appetite, sleep, and other functions. It also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust. The release of large amounts of serotonin likely causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood, and empathy felt by those who use MDMA.
Is Ecstasy Addiction Possible?
Yes, it’s possible to get addicted to ecstasy.
There are many out there who hold the conception that addiction is a choice. This isn’t true. Addiction is a disease that is a combination of environment and genetics. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, an addiction is can be defined like this:
Addiction occurs when someone no longer uses drugs for the sake of getting high. Instead, they need to use as a means of feeling normal again.
But how do people get to this spot in their lives? How to they make the transition from getting high to needing a drug to feel normal?
With many drugs, such as opioids, it’s through a physical dependence. However, as mentioned in the overview, ecstasy usually does not trigger physical dependence. Rather, the mind can become dependent.
Dependence or Addiction?
So, just because someone is taking ecstasy doesn’t mean they’re addicted to it. A dependence to ecstasy is when the brain has adapted to ecstasy’s chemical structure, and experiences withdrawal upon discontinuation. Still, there are a set of common withdrawal symptoms people report when they quit using MDMA. These can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of motivation
- Sleep disturbances
All these symptoms are primarily psychological. The reason for this is people develop a strong emotional tie to ecstasy. In other words, they use ecstasy for the sake of avoiding certain aspects of life (such as stress or low emotions). Rather than the body becoming dependent on the drug, the brain is wired to need ecstasy as a means of feeling normal again.
And with regular use, people continue to develop a tolerance. A tolerance is when someone needs to make more of a drug in order to feel its initial effects. This is where the cycle of addiction can take hold, when one continuously takes more and more in order to feel the euphoria they strongly attach to ecstasy. However, since an addiction isn’t necessarily an issue yet, they might still be able to manage responsibilities as well as hiding their drug use.
Since ecstasy is a primarily psychological drug, an addiction usually occurs only in certain individuals. Particularly, those who have trouble handling their emotions and other life stressors . Ecstasy can be a way out.
It can be hard to tell whether your loved one is struggling with an addiction or dependence for the answers are working within their brain rather than physically. In order to discover some answers, you can ask the following questions:
- Have you ever tried to quit ecstasy without success?
- Do you find yourself craving to use ecstasy?
- Are your responsibilities (i.e. school, work, family) at risk due to your ecstasy use?
- Have you continued to use ecstasy despite it causing problems in your relationship (i.e. significant other, family, friends)?
- Do you find yourself in risky behavior due to the fact that you use ecstasy?
- Do you spend a large amount of time thinking about, obtaining, or using ecstasy?
If you or your loved one answered yes to any of the above questions, addiction is likely. Still, not every person struggling with addiction will be open enough to answer these questions honestly. Many face denial.
The best way to get help is to work with a licensed rehab, clinical psychologist, social worker, addictions or family counselor who have experience in addiction.
Helping Address Denial
Denial is fairly common amongst those who face addiction. In fact, our society has made addiction seem like a choice rather than a disease. Therefore, many people feel a sense of shame when they use drugs to cope.
When trying to approach someone in denial, it’s important to inform yourself about an ecstasy addiction. With the knowledge of how addiction works, you’ll be able to properly understand what’s happening to your loved one and exactly how to help.
The best way to do this is by going through a professional, such as a licensed clinical psychologist, social worker, addictions or family counselor who has experience in addiction.
Working with a professional will teach you:
- How and when to build boundaries.
- How to discuss about recovery at the right time.
- How to remain safe around a person struggling with addiction.
- To look at addiction as a brain disorder.
- To look at addiction as a family issue.
Furthermore, as we’ve discussed, there could be a deeper psychological problem at hand which is causing the denial. More specifically, your loved one can be going through a depression and/or anxiety you may not be aware of. And ecstasy is the way he/she copes with that mental illness.
With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to approach denial:
- Don’t approach the person when they’re high on ecstasy.
- Talk about the areas in which their ecstasy use has had negative effects on others.
- Be precise in your discussion. Bring up specific events.
- Offer help and support. Suggest treatment. Look into options in advance and offer ideas.
- Keep up with your loved one regularly.
Even if you do ALL this, you still may run into denial. Addiction is difficult for someone to deal with. Most of us don’t want to let other people know about the dark sides of ourselves. In these cases, a more direct, professional intervention can help.
The chances of a person struggling with addiction approaching you is slim. This is because people facing addiction don’t usually ask for help… unless necessity requires it, such as an accident or a legal problem. Some of us have to fall very far before we’re ready to try something new.
Therefore, if your attempt to break denial doesn’t work, one effective way to get through to your loved one is to hold an intervention. An intervention is an arranged discussion or an “opening up” for the first time about previously undiscussed issues. It usually involves close relations like friends and family. And interventions are best received when they are invitational in nature.
There are risks to consider when attempting to play out an intervention with someone struggling with addiction. If the intervention is poorly planned, you may find your loved one reacting with bitterness and hostility. However, if properly planned, they’ll begin to understand the problem at hand. And they might just take the first steps towards recovery.
In order to create the most effective intervention, you’ll want to consult a professional interventionist like a member of the Association of Intervention Specialists or someone who has earned their CIP, Certified Intervention Professional. If you vet the interventionist in advance, you’ll guarantee yourself in making the most progress towards finding help for your loved one.
Here are seven further tips to keep in mind while planning your intervention:
- Carefully consider who’ll be present at the intervention.
- Get advice from professionals as you plan it out.
- Plan the communication and goal of discussion in advance.
- Prepare for anything as it’s impossible to say how someone will react to an intervention.
- Prepare to suggest consequences such as cutting off financial ties.
- Provide your loved one with a solution that will lead them towards recovery.
- Follow through with your loved one consistently after the intervention.
Help During Detox
Detox includes the acute stage of physical and psychological withdrawal from MDMA, which happens after a person stops taking the drug. In fact, most ecstasy users feel withdrawals immediately after their high is done, which is often referred to as a “buzz-kill”.
Generally speaking, users will feel very unmotivated and lazy the day following their ecstasy use. It takes the body around 2-4 days to get rid of the toxins found in ecstasy. This can cause any of the following physical withdrawal symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Involuntary teeth clenching
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle tension and muscle cramps
However, a bigger concern with ecstasy withdrawal has to do with the psychological side of things. Though the body will rid itself of ecstacy’s toxins within 2-4 days, the psychological and emotional impact the drug has on the brain can last anywhere from months to sometimes years. These can include severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking.
To provide and offer your help to someone going through withdrawal, consult with a medical detox clinic. Talk with staff and learn about their visitation policy. If you are not allowed to visit, offer support in the form of encouragement, phone calls, or texts. Sometimes, just knowing loved ones are waiting for you after detox can help a person pull through successfully.
Help During Treatment
Psychotherapy plays a huge role in changing behavior and teaches people how to get through normal day-to-day activities without drugs. Talk therapy is like coaching on how to handle emotions and behaviors differently…while managing cravings for drugs. Considering ecstasy has played a huge role as mental health “Band-Aid”, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a person needs to focus on thoughts and feelings in order to properly recover.
There are a variety of different therapies your loved one may find him/herself in while undergoing treatment. The amount of time s/he spends in these therapies entirely depends on their level of addiction. During this time, there are a variety of things you can do to provide support. Some examples are:
- Always be there, especially when times are most difficult.
- Be present in and contribute to family therapy sessions.
- Offer ways in which to promote healthy living (physically and psychologically).
- Send cards to your loved one through the mail. Tell them how proud you are that they are committed to becoming healthier.
- Visit your loved one during evening or weekend visit periods.
How Many People Struggle?
For the most part, ecstasy remains an adolescent drug. In 2013, around 750,000 people ages 12 and
older reported using ecstasy for the first time. And in 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, reported the following trends in the U.S.:
- Around 7% of Americans aged 12 and up had used ecstasy at least once in their lifetime.
- Around 1% % of Americans aged 12 and up had used E in the prior year.
- Approximately 0.2% of Americans aged 12 had used MDMA in the prior month.
Referrals to Help (Where to Find Help)
Looking for help for ecstasy addiction can sometimes be difficult. Most people aren’t aware of the variety of options at their disposal. Since ecstasy is primarily a psychological drug, you’ll want to consider help that specializes in mental health. Here are a list of options:
- Addiction doctors (find an ABAM specialist near you)
- Psychotherapists and counselors (find an APA psychologist near you)
- Psychiatrists (find an ABA psychiatrist near you)
- Social Workers (your state’s Department of Health and Social Services)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association’s (SAMHSA) National Hotline 1-800-622-HELP (4357)
- Your family physician
How to Support a Friend
As a friend of someone who’s addicted to ecstasy, your first goal should be to separate them from the crowd. Since ecstasy is a club drug, it’s best to stay away from that scene. The importance of this is the risk of relapse. People are much more likely to relapse when they’re in an environment that normalizes drug use.
It’s also good to inform yourself of how addiction works. As your friend undergoes treatment and recovery, you’ll want to know just how their body and brain are being effective as a means of providing the best support.
Still, at the end of the day, you can only do so much. Addiction and mental health issues are a very personal matter. Therefore, not every person struggling with addiction will be entirely open to sharing what’s happening to them…even if it’s one of your best friends. Have patience and know it’s up to your friend to address dysfunction in the mind and dig deeply for negative patterns. Not you.
Do you still have questions? If you have any further questions pertaining to how to help an ecstasy addict, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below.
If you have any kind of advice to give for people currently trying to help an ecstasy addict, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to provide a personal response to each comment and get back to you promptly.
Reference Sources: National Institute of Drug Abuse:
NIDA: Drugs and the Brain
NIDA for Teens: MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy)
Just Think Twice: Quiz on Ecstasy
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.