For many people, Ecstasy addiction begins innocently enough. Often, the stories sound much like this one. A teen boy heads to a packed dance club with some friends. Once he enters the club and the heat, the noise and the lights hit his system, he begins to feel nervous and out of sorts. He’s not quite sure what he should do or who he should talk to. One of his friends notices his discomfort, and gives him a tiny pink pill to help him calm down and enjoy the atmosphere. He takes this pill, and his whole night changes. When he looks back on this night, full of dancing and fun, he is convinced the Ecstasy has been the cause. Now, he finds that he has to take Ecstasy before he goes to any party.
Ecstasy was once considered the drug party of choice, able to help even the shyest wallflower connect with others. Now, people are beginning to realize that Ecstasy is both addictive and dangerous.
Breaking Down Ecstasy
According to the American Council for Drug Education, Ecstasy was developed in 1914, and was marketed as an appetite suppressant. In the 1970s and 1980s, people began selling the drug on the streets, and in 1985, it was made illegal. Making a drug illegal is supposed to make it less readily available, but that hasn’t been the case with Ecstasy. In fact, Ecstasy is still considered remarkably easy to find almost anywhere, and it’s commonly available from street dealers. Since the drug is illegal, however, its manufacture isn’t regulated by any sort of governmental system. This means that the Ecstasy sold by street dealers could vary significantly in purity. Some Ecstasy pills sold contain no actual Ecstasy at all. In fact, in early 2012, five people died in Canada due to impure Ecstasy pills. According to news reports, these people thought they were taking standard Ecstasy when they were, in fact, taking a completely different drug that was five times as potent.
This is one of the very real risks of Ecstasy addition: People who use the drug never really know what they are taking, and overdose is a real possibility.
Ecstasy is often sold as a brightly colored pill embossed with a tiny design. Some people simply ingest the pills, while other people snort or crush the pills in order to feel a more immediate response. Ecstasy works on the serotonin system in the brain.
Serotonin is a brain chemical that’s responsible for regulating:
- Sex drive
- Ability to feel pain
The brain uses a series of serotonin transporters that pick up the chemical, move it to another place and turn the chemical’s signal off. Ecstasy attaches to these serotonin transporters and keeps them from doing their jobs. This means the signal is never turned off, and the person’s system is in a state of stimulation.
This stimulation can cause a series of short-term symptoms that people might find pleasing, including:
- Boosts of self-confidence
- Closeness with others
- Increased sense of touch
This stimulation can also cause a whole host of unpleasant side effects, including rises in body temperature, involuntary muscle clenching and nausea. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Ecstasy use makes it difficult for the body to cool off. People taking the drug might run such high body temperatures that they experience kidney or liver failure. Some people also have heart attacks while taking Ecstasy.
Long-term use can cause even more severe problems. According to an article published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term use of Ecstasy can cause enduring brain damage. In a study quoted in the article, primates were given the drug for four days, and showed brain damage six to seven years later. Some humans who took Ecstasy performed poorly on tests of skill and memory, compared to people who did not take the drug. More research on this topic is ongoing, but it’s clear that Ecstasy is a dangerous drug.
Over the last 10 years, researchers have been trying to determine if Ecstasy can truly be considered addictive. These studies have been complicated by the fact that some people who take Ecstasy also take other drugs at the same time. It can be difficult to parse out whether the people are addicted to Ecstasy or whether they’re addicted to other drugs that they’re taking at the same time. But, a few studies that have been performed have demonstrated that Ecstasy taken alone can truly be addictive. For example, in one study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology found that of 173 young people studied, 52 reported using Ecstasy, and all of these users admitted that they had used the drug recently. Of those users, 43 percent met the clinical definition for addiction, which is continued use of the drug even though the person knows the drug is harmful. This study provides clear evidence that the drug has an addictive potential in and of itself. In another study performed in Australia and published in the journal Addiction, some people reported using the drug weekly, and most of those users reported that they could not stop taking the drug, even though they wanted to stop. This, again, seems to indicate that the drug is addictive.
It’s unclear what separates people who become addicted to Ecstasy and people who do not become addicted. Some people can take the drug from time to time and then simply stop without experiencing any trouble. Other people can take the drug just one time and develop a serious and persistent addiction that must be treated.
Spotting a Problem
People who are addicted to Ecstasy may go to great lengths to keep the addiction hidden. That doesn’t mean, however, that the addiction can be kept completely out of sight.
People who take Ecstasy might:
- Seem incredibly hyper and able to dance for hours without resting
- Drink large amounts of water
- Have flushed skin
- Be eager to touch and be touched
Teens who take Ecstasy might attempt to cover their use by taking to their friends about the drug in a coded language. According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, teens might refer to Ecstasy as:
- Love drug
Parents who hear their teens using these words, or who find colorful pills in their teens’ rooms, should be prepared to have a firm talk about drug use. In some cases, the teen might be simply experimenting and need a reminder that this sort of experimentation isn’t acceptable. In other cases, the teen might be struggling with an addiction that needs treatment.
Talking to someone about his or her addiction is always difficult, but talking to an Ecstasy addict might be especially challenging. The person might be withdrawn and hostile while not taking the drug, and warm and receptive while under the influence. This could tempt family members to talk about the addiction when the addict is under the influence, thinking that the person might be more open to intervention at this time. In general, this is a bad idea. The person needs a clear head in order to truly hear what is being said. It’s best to hold this tough talk when the person is sober. Some families may choose to hire an intervention specialist in order to plan for and hold this talk with the addict. This talk could be the first step on the road to recovery, as it helps the addict admit that a problem is occurring. When that admission occurs, treatments can begin.
If you need help approaching your loved one about their Ecstasy addiction or have questions about available ecstasy rehab treatment programs, call us at the number listed above. We are happy to help you on this journey.