MDMA / Ecstasy Addiction – The Basic Facts
“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.1
MDMA is a controversial substance. Some say it’s addictive some say it isn’t. Some say it’s harmful, others say it’s not… who to believe?
If you’re wondering about your MDMA habit and thinking about making some changes, read on to learn more about what you’re up against and how to find the success you’re looking for.
Is Ecstasy Addictive?
There is no research that conclusively proves its addictiveness.
However, there is some evidence that indicates that it could be, such as:
- Animals will self administer MDMA – and when animals are willing to take a substance, that usually means it has some dependence potential
- MDMA administration activates many of the same neurochemicals and areas of the brain as other addictive drugs do2
Case studies also show that some people become obsessed with MDMA and experience symptoms of addiction, such as:
- Taking more MDMA than they had intended on
- Craving MDMA
- Continuing to use MDMA even when it causes problems3
Additionally, ecstasy is often mixed with secondary substances, many of which are known to be addictive.
What you buy as ecstasy may also contain:
- Paramethoxyamphetamine (a very dangerous impurity)
So in some cases, you may think you’re addicted to ecstasy, but you’re actually addicted to a substance like amphetamine that is mixed in with the MDMA – and according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, there has been a shift over the past few years toward lower MDMA purity and greater adulteration in tablets bought across the continent.4
So what does all this mean for you?
Whether or not you’ve been taking pure MDMA and whether scientists can agree on its abuse potential is of little importance to you if you’ve developed a problem with the drug.
It comes down to…
If your drug use is causing you life-problems then you have a drug abuse problem and if you are unable to stop or control your use (and you want to) then you should consider some form of professional addiction treatment.
Are You Addicted?
Having a hard time controlling your drug use (ecstasy, ecstasy plus another drug, or other drugs entirely)?
Wondering if you might be addicted?
If so, ask yourself the following questions to see whether your habit meets the criteria for dependence.
Based on your drug use over the previous 12 months, answer yes or no to the following:
- Have you built up a tolerance?
- Do you feel withdrawal symptoms when you don’t take your drug of choice or do you need to take another similar drug to avoid feeling withdrawal symptoms?
- Do you often take more of the drug than you had intended on using or use for longer than you had intended on?
- Do you feel a persistent desire to cut down, or have you tried and failed to cut down your drug use?
- Do you spend a lot of time getting drugs (or the money you need to buy drugs) using drugs and recovering from your use?
- Because of your drug use, have you given up or reduced the time you spend on other important activities (like school, work, family activities etc.)?
- Do you continue to use your drug of choice despite knowing that it causes you some persistent physical or psychological problem(s)?
If you answer yes to 3 or more based on your drug use over the previous 12 months you meet the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic criteria for addiction.5
Health Consequences of Chronic MDMA Use
Similarly to how experts vary in their opinions of MDMA’s addictiveness, there is a similar difference of opinion about the drug’s long term health consequences.
Some research indicates a link between heavy ecstasy use and increased rates of mental illness and decreased cognitive functioning. Research has also shown a link between heavy MDMA use and chronic exhaustion, muscle aches, sleeping problems and even psychotic symptoms, like flashbacks and delusions.6
But critics of this correlational research argue that there is little proof that MDMA actually causes any long-term mental illness or thinking problems, and that in the vast majority of studies, the subjects tested had also used other drugs and alcohol as well in addition to MDMA...which makes it impossible to say with any certainty which substance causes what effects.
We do know, however, that each time you take MDMA (and whatever else might be lurking hidden within a tablet’s chemical mix-up) you are putting your body at risk of acute toxic consequences – some resulting directly from the ingested chemicals, and some from the hyperthermia and other physiological changes that occur after ingestion.
So it’s a little like Russian roulette, in that the more times you take MDMA, the greater your odds of eventually having a serious adverse reaction (in 2008, 17 865 people went to an emergency room after taking ecstasy. The common complaints were hyperthermia, tachycardia, hypertension and anxiety attacks.)7
The most common serious adverse reactions include:
- Hyperthermia – Overheating can lead to organ damage and eventually kidney or heart failure
- Strokes and Seizures – Increased body temperature and increased heart rate and blood pressure can cause strokes and seizures
- Serotonin Syndrome (can be fatal)
- Coma and Convulsions – Drinking too much water can lead to electrolyte imbalances that can cause delirium, confusion, convulsions, coma and death
What about Long-Term Thinking Problems?
Although many studies have linked MDMA use to impaired memory and thinking problems, and though we can see that large doses of MDMA seem to harm the functioning of serotonin neurons in the brain, human cognition studies have been plagued by the pesky and problematic reality that users of MDMA also tend to be users of other drugs, like alcohol, marijuana and opiates.
- A more recent National Institute of Drug Abuse backed study compared subjects who used MDMA only to matched control subjects. In this study, MDMA use caused no cognitive deficits.8
Making a Change
- Is MDMA addictive? Maybe…
- Does it do you long term harm? Maybe…
- Do you know yourself if your drug use takes more than it gives? You probably do.
When it comes down to the big decisions of life, things tend to get pretty simple (though simple doesn’t always mean easy…)
If you think the costs and risks of MDMA outweigh the benefits, then you should stop using, and if you can’t stop on your own, then you should get the help you need.
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