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Ecstasy addiction: signs, effects, and treatments

Reading time: 7 mins

Ecstasy is a stimulant drug that causes hallucinations and changes a person’s perception of reality. It is one of the most frequently used club drugs. Some people develop an addiction to ecstasy.

Signs of ecstasy addiction are strong cravings for the drug, developing tolerance and increasing the amounts to experience the same effects, spending a lot of time and money on ecstasy, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, changing social circle, and continuing to use ecstasy despite interpersonal problems and physical or psychological health issues it causes. 

The effects of ecstasy can be short-term and long-term. Short-term effects include anxiety and depression, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, difficulty sleeping, blurred vision, dilated pupils, and others. Long-term effects of ecstasy include kidney problems, memory loss, cardiovascular collapse, cognitive problems, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and tendencies. 

What is Ecstasy addiction?

Ecstasy addiction is a type of physical addiction where a person has the overpowering need to keep using ecstasy despite the problems and consequences it causes. It is also known as ecstasy use disorder, MDMA addiction, or MDMA use disorder. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition ❲DSM-5❳ categorizes ecstasy addiction in the section called Other Hallucinogen Use Disorder. 

Ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, is a synthetic drug known for stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. It produces an energizing effect, distorts time and perception, and amplifies the enjoyment of tactile experiences. Although MDMA pills are a well-known club drug today, the drug was initially developed as a parent compound to synthesize medications that regulate bleeding. A German pharmaceutical company developed MDMA back in 1912.

Ecstasy addiction description

What are the street names for Ecstasy?

Street names for ecstasy are listed below:

  • Molly
  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Disco biscuit
  • Clarity
  • E
  • Eve
  • Hug drug
  • Go
  • Lover’s speed
  • X
  • E
  • XTC
  • STP
  • Peace
  • MDMA
  • California sunrise
  • Candy
  • Elephants
  • Essence
  • Love drug
  • Love pill
  • Snowball
  • Scooby snacks
  • Roll 
  • Rave 

What are the signs of Ecstasy addiction?

Green and white drugs on blue background

Signs of ecstasy addiction are listed below:

  • Strong cravings for ecstasy
  • Taking ecstasy for longer than intended and in larger amounts
  • Developing tolerance to ecstasy and increasing the use to experience the same effects
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop using ecstasy
  • Spending a lot of time and money on buying, using, and recovering from ecstasy use
  • Neglecting work, school, and other daily responsibilities due to ecstasy use
  • Using ecstasy in dangerous or risky situations e.g. while operating heavy machinery or driving
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed, social withdrawal
  • Continuing to use ecstasy despite interpersonal problems causes
  • Continuing to use ecstasy despite physical and psychological problems causes 
  • Changes in social circle 
  • Lying or secretive behavior
  • Legal problems and financial difficulties due to ecstasy use
  • Highly energetic behavior

What are the possible causes of Ecstasy addiction?

Possible causes of ecstasy addiction are unclear, like with other types of substance use disorders. It’s highly likely that a combination of different factors plays a role in the development of ecstasy addiction rather than a single cause alone. Potential causes of ecstasy addiction are listed below:

  • Genetics: evidence, such as a study from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, confirms that family history is a major risk factor for the development of substance use disorders. That means a person is more likely to develop ecstasy addiction if their family member, especially a parent or sibling, also struggles with substance abuse. Some people have a genetic predisposition to develop an addiction. It’s not a single genetic mutation that causes problems such as ecstasy addiction, but multiple genes could be involved.
  • Environment: a person’s environment has a substantial influence on their behaviors and can contribute to the development of ecstasy addiction. People who were raised in unsafe, dysfunctional homes may be more prone to substance abuse as a way to cope with trauma. Peer pressure can also lead to ecstasy addiction as a person feels pressured to keep using the drug in order to be accepted by their social circle. The use of drugs such as ecstasy is glorified on social media and in movies or TV shows, which can also contribute to addiction as a person feels there’s nothing wrong with using it. Other environmental factors in the development of ecstasy addiction include easy access to the drug, socioeconomic status (middle class or upper class), and a party-loving lifestyle. 
  • Brain changes: ecstasy influences functions in the brain, just like other drugs. It causes a greater release of serotonin and norepinephrine than dopamine. The main role of the serotonin neurotransmitter is to regulate mood, appetite, pain, sleep, and other behaviors. Excessive release of serotonin leads to mood-elevating effects of ecstasy. With time, receptors in the brain weaken, and greater amounts of the drug are necessary to experience the same effects. This leads to problematic use, dependence, and addiction. 

What are the side effects of Ecstasy?

Side effects of ecstasy can be short- and long-term. They are demonstrated in the table below.

Side effects of ecstasy 
Short-term side effects Long-term side effects
Impaired judgment  or loss of inhibition Nerve degeneration 
Anxiety and/or depressionPsychosis 
Paranoia Kidney failure
Confusion Anxiety and/or depression 
Difficulty sleeping Memory loss
Blurred vision and pupil dilation Hemorrhaging 
Muscle tension Long-lasting brain damage
Teeth grinding or clenching Convulsions 
Auditory or visual hallucinations Cardiovascular collapse 
Increased heart rate and blood pressure Cognitive issues e.g. difficulties with executive processing, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, etc.
Elevated body temperatureSuicidal thoughts and tendencies 
Increased sex drive Death 

How is Ecstasy addiction being diagnosed?

Ecstasy addiction is diagnosed like other substance use disorders. A thorough evaluation is necessary, which is why a doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. The main purpose of a physical exam is to rule out health problems that could cause similar symptoms. The doctor may also order a blood or urine test to look for the presence of drugs. 

The doctor may also refer a patient to a psychiatrist who performs a psychiatric evaluation. They may also interview family members to get a deeper understanding of a patient’s behavior. 

In order to diagnose ecstasy addiction, the psychiatrist may rely on DSM-5 and make sure the patient meets the diagnostic criteria listed in this manual, according to Mayo Clinic. Diagnostic criteria for ecstasy addiction i.e., other hallucinogen use disorder, indicates exhibiting at least two symptoms from DSM-5 within 12 months. These criteria include continuing to use ecstasy despite social or interpersonal problems, using ecstasy despite physical or psychological problems, having strong cravings for ecstasy, and falling behind at work, school, and other responsibilities due to ecstasy. Other criteria include losing interest in activities once enjoyed, spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from ecstasy, taking more ecstasy than intended, using ecstasy in dangerous situations, and developing a tolerance for ecstasy.

What are the Ecstasy addiction statistics?

Ecstasy addiction statistics are scarce, which is why it’s impossible to know how many people are affected. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the United States, about 0.9% of people aged 12 years or older reported ecstasy use in the past year. That accounts for 2.6 million people.

As of 2020, over 20.5 million people in the United States had used ecstasy pills at some point in their lifetime whereas 681,000 reported they used the drug in the past month.

At the same time, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported that 4.2% of people aged 15 to 64 years reported ecstasy use at some point in their lifetime. In other words, at least 14 million Europeans have tried ecstasy at least once. Young adults (15-34) are most likely to use ecstasy, according to their report.

Unfortunately, no data shows how many people who use ecstasy become addicted to it.

What are the Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms?

Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms are not as common as withdrawal from other substance use disorders. The symptoms and their duration depend on several factors, such as frequency and duration of drug use, tolerance, age, gender, genetics, metabolism, and overall health. 

Withdrawal symptoms of ecstasy addiction tend to peak within a few days after the last drug use. Some of them go away in about a week or two, but others, such as depression, can last for several weeks or a few months.

The ecstasy withdrawal symptoms may vary from one person to another mainly because people tend to use it in combination with other substances or, sometimes, it is cut with other drugs such as ketamine and heroin. 

The most common ecstasy withdrawal symptoms are listed below:

  • Cravings for ecstasy 
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation and irritability 
  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reduced appetite
  • Self-perception changes

What are the treatments available for Ecstasy addiction?

Available treatments for ecstasy addiction are listed below:

  • Detox: the first phase of addiction treatment, involves abrupt cessation of ecstasy use. As a person stops taking the drug, the body and brain respond through withdrawal symptoms as they try to adapt to the absence of ecstasy. Detox is performed under medical supervision for patient safety. At this point, there are no approved medications to treat ecstasy addiction, but doctors can prescribe therapies for the management of other symptoms, such as depression. Since detox is the first stage of the recovery process, patients continue the treatment through adequate programs.
  • Inpatient treatment: the patient is admitted to an addiction treatment center, where they stay until their treatment program completes. People usually spend 30, 60, or 90 days in rehab centers. During their treatment, patients receive different types of therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the most common type of psychotherapy and also the most effective. The main purpose of CBT is to help patients identify negative thoughts that lead to unhealthy emotions and behaviors, then replace them with realistic and more positive alternatives. Healthier thought patterns lead to healthier behaviors. During CBT sessions, patients also learn skills that help them recover and prevent relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBT also helps patients develop coping skills with life’s stressors. In addition to individual therapy, patients also attend group therapy sessions. A study from the Archives of General Psychiatry confirmed that CBT is effective in group settings, promotes substance abuse treatment, and helps manage depression. 
  • Outpatient treatment: the non-residential type of program, i.e. the patient doesn’t live in a rehab center. The patient lives at home, maintains employment, and attends therapy sessions regularly. Outpatient treatment includes individual therapy, and group therapy and may rely on several approaches, mainly CBT. These programs are suitable for people whose addiction isn’t severe or patients who have completed an inpatient program but need more guidance to prevent relapse.
  • Support groups: a major aspect of addiction treatment. During group meetings, patients share their experiences with recovery, the challenges they face, and the obstacles they overcome. In addition to sharing experiences, people in support groups also offer support to others, which is important for recovery. Support groups provide the opportunity to learn, increase confidence, and work on sobriety.