Ecstasy Use and Abuse: Prevalence, Risks, and Addiction Treatment

Ecstasy Defined

The drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA)—also referred to as ecstasy, E, or molly—is a widely abused, psychoactive synthetic drug known for its mood and perception-altering properties. While it is most commonly consumed orally in tablet or capsule form, MDMA can also be swallowed as a liquid or snorted in powder form. The effects are similar to stimulants and hallucinogenic, as this illicit amphetamine increases energy and pleasure through the rapid release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain. 

A person will feel an overall sense of well-being, extroversion, empathy, and emotional warmth within 45 minutes of consumption. These effects can last anywhere from three to six hours.

The short-term physical effects of MDMA include:

  • Increased perspiration
  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Feelings of intense joy and excitement
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Clenched jaw
  • Loss of control of body movements

Ecstasy Use, Statistics, and Prevalence

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), MDMA gained popularity among psychiatrists in the 1970s because it enhanced communication and insight into their clients. Shortly after, ecstasy peaked in popularity as a street drug. Just one decade later, MDMA was banned from medical use and placed on the list of Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Since then, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 17 million people over the age of 12 reported using MDMA recreationally at least once in their lifetime. This same study reported that MDMA use had been found predominantly in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Today, ecstasy is commonly associated with electronic dance music, nightclubs, concerts, and raves. 

The Risks of Using Ecstasy

Ecstasy significantly impacts levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. When the effects of the drug wear off, the brain can lose its ability to produce and release this “happy hormone” naturally, affecting a person’s mood, sleep patterns, pain tolerance, and appetite. This pattern of rising and falling in serotonin levels can cause intense feelings of depression and anxiety, poor memory, and mental fogginess in the days or weeks following use. 

Abuse of MDMA puts immense stress on the heart, leading to rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, complications, and even heart disease over time. 

While under the effects of MDMA, a person can experience any of these acute, adverse health effects: 

  • Dehydration from increased perspiration, heart rate, and activity
  • Disorganized or irrational thoughts
  • Grinding of the teeth
  • Nausea
  • Restless legs
  • Clenched muscles
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Hot flashes
  • Irregular heartbeat

Long-term effects of MDMA are primarily psychological but can last for days and even weeks following use, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Impulsive thoughts and behaviors
  • Altered sense of time
  • Kidney damage
  • Poor memory
  • Inability to focus
  • Aggression
  • Liver damage

Not only can the use of ecstasy be damaging to the body over short and long periods, being under the influence of MDMA causes people to act impulsively, endangering themselves and others of accidental injuries. People who use this drug are also more likely to participate in risky sexual behavior, which increases the risk of contracting HIV and other STDs. 

What makes MDMA even more dangerous is taking it with other psychoactive drugs, such as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms.

Addiction Treatment for Ecstasy

MDMA is not viewed as an addictive substance like alcohol or opioids, as it has not been shown to cause physical withdrawal symptoms. It does, however, affect the same neurotransmitters in the brain as other illicit and highly addictive drugs. The Schedule I drug categorization proves that MDMA has addictive potential, which appears in a person’s continued use despite the negative impacts on their social life, employment, and relationships. 

Because ecstasy has not been shown to cause physical withdrawal symptoms, there are no FDA-approved medications for ecstasy addiction treatment. Instead, people with ecstasy use disorder have been shown to benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a form of talk therapy that helps with openly discussing ideas and emotions around addiction and teaches necessary coping skills, addresses triggers and cravings, and how to work through self-destructive behavior. 

Any lasting, long-term, psychological effects can be treated through dual-diagnosis treatment. This approach to addiction treatment focuses on both the addiction and any co-occurring mental illness in conjunction with one another. Through dual-diagnosis treatment, clients learn how to work through their diagnoses, how they directly impact addiction, and develop life skills necessary for lasting recovery. During treatment, medication-assisted therapy can be beneficial in treating the effects of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders that developed before and after MDMA use.

Addiction treatment plans are determined and designed to fit an individual’s unique needs throughout recovery. Depending on the extent and duration of the addiction, clients receiving treatment for MDMA use disorder may wish to participate in residential inpatient treatment. In this environment, clients receive support through individual, group, and family therapy, alternative therapies, and outdoor activities.

MDMA, also known as ecstasy and molly, is considered a drug with high addiction potential that causes an overall sense of well-being and pleasure as well as heightened energy levels and mood. Along with these effects may come impulsivity, aggression, paranoia, and serious heart complications such as high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. If you or a loved one are suffering from MDMA use disorder, call Laguna Shores Recovery to learn more about our individualized treatment plans at (954) 329-1118.