MDMA Addiction: Signs, Risks, and Treatment Options for MDMA Addiction

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Signs, Risks, and Treatment Options for MDMA Addiction

MDMA Addiction

Have you or a loved one been taking MDMA because of its popularity on the streets and developed an addiction? To receive proper help and prevent long-term damage to your health, you’ll need to learn the facts about MDMA. Read below to find out more about the signs, symptoms, and risks of MDMA dependency.

MDMA Addiction

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) was first synthesized as an appetite suppressant and emerged in America when a psychotherapist attempted to use the drug for therapeutic treatments like marriage counseling. Made illegal in 1988, the drug became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Known as the "club drug," MDMA, or ecstasy, it became plentiful in raves, house parties, college dorms, and other recreational locations.

As a synthetic, psychoactive drug, MDMA delivers unique effects to the partygoers who take it such as euphoria and a distortion of senses and time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that its effects can set in about 20 to 40 minutes after ingestion and last anywhere from three to six hours. Some users take a second dose once the initial effects begin to fade, which increases the effects and the danger of MDMA. Others may combine the drug with different substances, bringing in additional and potentially unknown side effects. 

While primary use of the drug began in nightclubs and on the party scene with young people, the face of the MDMA user has changed over the decades, according to the NIDA. Although the drug is still commonly used by white youth, other communities, such as urban gay males, have become users. As a result of users mixing MDMA with other club drugs like marijuana and cocaine, there is a link with high-risk sexual behaviors that result in STIs and HIV. Therefore, in addition to the immediate and prolonged risk MDMA poses to those who abuse it—typically young, white, female partygoers—the drug can also affect one's sexual and reproductive health.

As a DEA-recognized Schedule I drug, MDMA is considered to have a high potential for abuse and has no established use as a medical treatment. Therefore, ecstasy is not prescribed, but frequently obtained on the streets illegally.

Street names for MDMA include: ecstasy, X, E, XTC, Lover's Speed, Love Drug, Ultimate Xphoria, Cloud 9, Adam, and Clarity, among others.

MDMA Addiction Side Effects

The side effects of MDMA usually peak within the first hour to an hour and a half after taking the drug. These side effects consist of both desirable and undesirable conditions and are based on short-term and long-term usage.

Short-term Effects of MDMA

The NIDA reports that shortly after ingestion and up to one week later, users may experience:

Desirable side effects that eventually diminish, including:

  • Euphoria, exhilaration
  • Emotional warmth
  • Relaxation
  • An openness to new experiences and reduced inhibitions 
  • Increased empathy toward others
  • Mild hallucinations
  • Decrease in worry or anxiety

Undesirable or adverse side effects that may stick around longer, which include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle cramping
  • Aggression
  • Intense hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Blurred vision
  • Involuntary teeth-clenching
  • Dilated pupils
  • Reduced interest in and satisfaction from sexual activity
  • Impulsivity
  • Restlessness
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure

In addition to these potentially dangerous side effects of using MDMA, users are frequently at risk of overdose. Symptoms of overdose consist of loss of consciousness, panic attacks, feeling faint, hypertension, and seizures. 

Long-Term Effects of MDMA

Over a period of time, heavy users may experience all of the above in addition to more lasting changes in physical and mental health. In fact, the NIDA suggests that the long-term use of ecstasy may alter brain chemistry. In animal studies, those treated with MDMA showed damaged serotonin neurons and even seven years after brief exposure, their brains had not returned to normal. When serotonin levels drop below normal, users show impairments in their abilities to learn, retain information, and regulate their emotions. In addition, chronic ecstasy users exhibit more verbal and visual memory impairments than nonusers.

In addition to being neurotoxic to the brain, other long-term MDMA addiction side effects include:

  • Paranoia
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Sustained confusion
  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety disorders
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections or HIV and of unwanted pregnancy

Another possible result of long-term MDMA use is death. Since a common effect of the drug is hyperthermia, those who heavily use the drug are at an increased risk of dying of heatstroke from continuous dancing and body movements that occur for long hours in hot clubs. As a result, dehydration and heat stroke stand as the largest (immediate) risks in using MDMA.

Signs of MDMA Addiction

The neurotransmitters in the brain targeted by other addictive drugs are also targeted by MDMA. The drug produces tolerance effects in which a heavy user's serotonin levels are depleted. This causes the user to take more and more of the drug to achieve desirable effects. In addition, chronic users demonstrate an inability to stop using the drug, even when it introduces significant problems in their life such as an inability to function without it or to handle normal life stressors and other occupational and school-related tasks. 

According to information from Brown University Student Health Services, 43 percent of ecstasy users (adolescents and young adults) were dependent on the drug, while 34 percent met the criteria for abuse. In addition, 60 percent of users reported physiological and psychological symptoms of MDMA addiction withdrawal.

If a friend or loved one is addicted to ecstasy, they may:

  • Feel unhappy when they are not using the drug
  • Spend lots of money to obtain the drug (even to the point of borrowing or stealing to get more)
  • Neglect friends who do not use and make friends who do
  • Use frequently and use more than they once did
  • Fail to show up for work, class, or obligations because they are preoccupied with drug use

If you or someone you care about are exhibiting these signs of MDA addiction, you may need to seek help for your MDMA addiction.

MDMA Addiction Withdrawal 

As with many drugs with addictive potential, heavy users frequently experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to discontinue MDMA use. George Washington University states that MDMA addiction withdrawal may include an inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), depression, sleep difficulties, fatigue, intense drug cravings, dehydration, irritability, loss of appetite, lack of motivation, lethargy, and concentration problems.

MDMA Addiction Detox

Due to the undesirable effects of MDMA addiction withdrawal, many users find it hard to abstain from the drug for long periods of time. If you or a friend are attempting to discontinue MDMA use after taking the drug heavily, it is advisable to seek professional assistance.

General treatment of MDMA intoxication requires constant hydration to fight the effects of the drug. However, in cases of potential overdose, a user may exhibit fever, hyperthermia, impaired sensorium, and muscle rigidity. Cases such as this demand immediate medical attention. The user may require IV fluids and medical treatments to reduce body temperature and prevent hyperthermia. 

Currently, there are no accepted pharmacological substitute treatments for MDMA dependence. While some drugs have medically acceptable alternatives that can be used to minimize withdrawal effects, ecstasy does not, which is why professional support and supervision is essential. 

If you or a loved one are planning to abstain from MDMA cold turkey, be prepared to experience a bout of undesirable symptoms. It is always best to undergo such a process with the help of a medical provider who can offer moral support and surveillance of any symptoms. If a user attempts MDMA addiction detox without the supervision of a qualified addiction specialist, he or she should be in otherwise good general health, not have an existing diagnosis of a mental illness, have a strong, non-using support system, and be highly motivated to succeed throughout the unpleasant symptoms and intense cravings that accompany detoxification.

MDMA Addiction Rehab

Most of the addiction problems that effect teenagers in America occur due to abuse of marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine. According to a national survey from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 24 million people are in need of drug addiction intervention and, of those people, 2.5 million will enroll for MDMA addiction rehab.

In a qualified rehabilitation center, an addict will have access to a structured environment, balanced nutrition, exercise, support groups, psychoeducation, and psychotherapy. The NIDA notes that most rehabilitation for MDMA will focus on teaching users adaptive skills for dealing with triggers, developing better coping mechanisms, and working to modify their existing thought patterns and behaviors with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

In addition, after leaving the MDMA addiction rehab setting, those in recovery may establish lasting bonds with professionals and other previous ecstasy users to call on during times of distress. It is  helpful for those in recovery to participate in a continuing care support group for long-term help in staying drug-free.

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