October 10th, 2023
Ecstasy is a central nervous system stimulant and psychoactive synthetic drug that is usually taken in pill form. The user will experience intense feelings of euphoria, increased sociability, alertness and energy, and emotional empathy. Due to its effects, ecstasy is most often used by young adults in social situations like nightclubs. With the drug being amongst the most popular used in the UK, ecstasy addiction is also prevalent.
Ecstasy abuse and addiction can often be brushed off because of its common place at parties and social scenes, seen as the “normal” thing to do by many young people, however, its effects can be detrimental to not only the user, but their loved ones too. On this page, we will explain the effects of ecstasy abuse, how to recognise ecstasy addiction, and the treatment options available to you.
The stages of ecstasy addiction
The stages of ecstasy and MDMA addiction may involve:
- Initiation: You are introduced to ecstasy for the first time. This will usually occur as a result of your own curiosity or peer pressure, and will often take place at parties or nightclubs.
- Experimentation: You begin to take ecstasy recreationally in specific situations, including at parties or other social environments.
- Regular use: You have established a pattern of drug use, even in solo situations.
- Dependence: You develop a dependence on ecstasy as the brain relies on its presence to produce serotonin.
- Addiction: You continue to seek out and use ecstasy despite obvious ramifications to your health, wellbeing, and financial state.
What is ecstasy?
Ecstasy pills come in a wide variety of colours and shapes, usually with pictures or logos stamped onto the pill. The logo often relates to the pill’s nickname, for example, a “superman” pill will have the superman logo imprinted on it. Ecstasy pills are normally swallowed, although some people may crush and snort them.
Ecstasy also comes in a powder or crystal form, referred to as MDMA, amongst other names like MD, Mandy, or Molly. It may appear as white, off-white, or yellowish in colour. Users may rub the substance into their gums, sprinkle it into their drink, or wrap it in cigarette paper and swallow it (referred to as “bombing”).
MDMA is the shortened chemical name for the synthetic psychoactive drug 3, 4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, and this is also the active ingredient expected to be found in ecstasy pills.
The production of ecstasy is unregulated, however, and many of the dangers seen are due to other potentially toxic ingredients, for example, PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), N-Ethylpentylone, and NBOMes (N-methoxybenzyl), which are all toxic at lower doses and therefore easy to take too much of.
Effects of ecstasy
Once consumed, the effects of ecstasy usually take hold within twenty minutes to one hour, and can last three to six hours, with users often taking more doses to prolong the high. Ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria, empathy, and pleasure. You will experience a heightened sensitivity to sound, lights, and touch, and may also experience hallucinations. These mind-altering effects are caused by the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, especially serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
Alongside this comes a range of unpleasant, short-term side effects which include:
- Dilated pupils
- Abnormal, long-lasting stimulation and energy
- Teeth/jaw clenching or “gurning”
- Raised body temperature
- Memory loss
- Muscle tension and convulsions
- Cardiovascular collapse
- Kidney failure
Long term abuse can result in a number of health issues, damaging both your body and mind. Other moderate to severe long-term side effects include:
- Nerve degeneration and brain damage
- Reduced emotional control
- Impaired cognitive function
- Memory loss
- Personality changes
- Increased risk of heart attack, seizure, or stroke
Ecstasy addiction symptoms
Ecstasy and MDMA addiction, like other types of drug addictions, is a condition that sees the user continually consume the drug despite being aware of the negative physical and mental impacts.
Ecstasy alters the brain by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. It also prevents their reabsorption, with the brain producing less of these chemicals to compensate. This change results in a dependence on the drug – the addict will chase the high, and will need to increase doses to achieve this.
Other ecstasy addiction symptoms may include frequent cravings and unease when the drug is not available. It is possible that you may develop a preoccupation with ecstasy, spending a lot of time and money trying to acquire it and therefore experiencing financial issues. Frequent users may experience “come-downs” – similar to a hangover which may last two or three days, or even a week after using the drug.
There are other symptoms, such as hiding your addiction from others, the unwillingness or inability to quit despite recognising the harm it is causing, changing your social circles and leaning towards friends who use ecstasy, and even dealing with problems with the law as a result of your drug use.
Recognising ecstasy addiction
Recognising an ecstasy addiction in a loved one can be difficult – addicts often try to hide their drug use as best they can, and usually take the drug outside of the home. There are some signs to look out for, including:
- Changes in their social circle
- Depression or sleeping a lot when not using
- Financial or legal issues
- Secretive behaviour
- Sudden inability to fulfil daily responsibilities
How to avoid ecstasy addiction and dependence
Ecstasy dependence can be avoided by declining the use of the drug completely, especially in the party scene where pressures to join in may be great. While dependence on ecstasy may not happen quickly, an established regular pattern of frequent abuse will certainly quicken the process.
It is also important to recognise the markers of addiction and ensure that you seek help once you realise that you have a problem. Being educated on the addictive properties of ecstasy and its side effects may discourage you from using ecstasy and forming a habit with the drug.
What not to do:
Don’t play it down
It is important to take ecstasy abuse seriously – don’t play it down or pass it off as ‘just a bit of fun’. Even one dose of the drug can have serious or life threatening consequences due to unregulated production, and long-term use can have devastating effects on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Don’t assume it’s not addictive
Whilst ecstasy and MDMA dependence is lower compared to other drugs, this does not mean it is not addictive. The significant high you feel when taking ecstasy results in users often craving it again and again.
Don’t be ashamed to get help
If you are worried about your own drug use, or that of a loved one, there is nothing wrong with asking for help or support. Ecstasy and MDMA abuse and addiction affects millions of people every year, but recovery is possible.
If you or a loved one has an addiction to ecstasy or MDMA, there is treatment available. This typically starts with a medically assisted ecstasy detox and is followed by ecstasy rehabilitation.
If you are ready to achieve lasting sobriety, contact one of our UKAT facilities today to begin your journey to a healthy life.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I tell my family I’m addicted to ecstasy?
If you’ve been using ecstasy for a while and are exhibiting signs of abuse, chances are, your family may be nursing suspicions or may already be aware of your addiction. Being addicted to ecstasy means you need all the help you can get to break free from your addiction and lead a normal life – with the help of your family members and loved ones, you’ll have a higher chance of achieving recovery.
While it’s understandable that you may feel like you’ve let them down and don’t have the courage to face them, they’re most likely concerned about your situation and safety and will be willing to help you get your life back on track. You can approach those you’re closest to in an apologetic manner, stating how aware you are of your behaviour and the impact it has had on your life, as well as your willingness to seek help and turn over a new leaf.
Why is my use of ecstasy affecting my relationships?
Ecstasy use and addiction can hurt your relationship with others as you’ll begin to prioritise the drug over other responsibilities in your life, such as your commitment to these relationships. You may begin to miss appointments and not follow through with commitments. Essentially, your relationships may be affected because your use of ecstasy will turn you into a completely different person.
My friend is abusing ecstasy – how can I help them?
If your friend has reached out to you for help, it is important that you provide as much support as you can give. You can assist in making appointments with health professionals, researching treatment facilities (for cases of dependence or addiction), accompanying them to their appointments if need be, and providing a positive environment for them. If your friend is resistant to help, you can try to convince them to seek a professional opinion. You can also gather information and share it with your friend.