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Is Ecstasy Addictive?

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Table of Contents

Ecstasy is a recreational drug that is often referred to as MDMA. In fact, however, ecstasy is a distinct substance. It is an umbrella term for a class of drugs that generally includes multiple substances. MDMA is almost always a primary component, but the drug also often contains amphetamine, opioids, and other “feel-good” substances. Ecstasy is so-named because of the euphoric effects it causes. People who take it can easily develop a psychological dependence on the substance’s mood-altering effects. Over time, physical dependence and addiction can develop.

What is Ecstasy?

This drug can be somewhat difficult to classify, because its effects are similar to several other classes of drug. In some ways, it mimics the effects of dissociative drugs like ketamine. It is also similar to hallucinogenic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. Because ecstasy also often contains amphetamine, and because the primary component of the drug causes increases in energy levels, it also shares many qualities with stimulant drugs.

When people take ecstasy, they experience a range of euphoric effects. One of the most sought after effects is a feeling of stronger connections with other people. Some individuals even claim they experience increased empathy, compassion, and love. Aside from this, taking the drug reduces anxiety and sadness, heightens pleasure, and helps people feel energetic for long periods of time. For these reasons, it is a popular recreational drug in club and raves scenes.

The drug has no officially recognized medical uses. As such, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance. The category of drugs, which is the DEA’s most restrictive, indicates that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Can you Get Addicted to Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is addictive more than many people think. Most users don’t start off seeing a problem with their use of the drug. In fact, among young people the substance is widely misperceived as entirely harmless. This could not be further from the truth. Ecstasy abuse can very rapidly become a destructive habit and a vicious cycle. Signs of ecstasy addiction include:

  • Taking ecstasy at higher doses than before
  • Taking the drug more frequently
  • Having difficulties at college, highschool, or work. Withdrawal symptoms the day after a night out can cause people to be absent, late, or simply perform poorly, due to the deleterious effects on cognitive function, memory, and mood.
  • Spending long periods of time planning or fantasizing about one’s next ecstasy experience
  • Having difficulty socializing or development friendships without the drug
  • Abusing ecstasy despite an awareness of the negative consequences, which range from health issues to legal/financial difficulties

Why is Ecstasy Addictive?

When people take this recreational drug, it immediately produces a number of biochemical changes in the brain. Very quickly, a user’s levels of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine increase in their brains. Ecstasy causes the brain to release these stored up “happy chemicals.” These neurotransmitters are responsible for the euphoric effects of ecstasy and the feelings of strong personal connections that users experience. These effects are so powerful that many people find themselves continually drawn to the experience, especially if they have untreated mental health problems or an addictive personality.

However, ecstasy is addictive because of other factors besides the set of effects it produces, but also because of the withdrawal symptoms that occur afterwards. During the “come down,” drug abusers quickly discover that their brains’ stock of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine is totally depleted, since ecstasy uses these chemicals up completely. As such, drug withdrawal it is very difficult to feel happy, energetic, or connected with other people. The only way to return to baseline levels of happiness is to quit ecstasy altogether or take it again as soon as possible. Most people choose the second option.

So far, we’ve mostly been talking about the effects of the primary component of ecstasy, which alters mood and is the least physically addictive component. It is crucial to recognize that this drug is usually a grab bag of recreational substances, many of which are far more physically addictive and dangerous. Ecstasy is often laced with heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, and crystal meth. This substances can cause unwitting users to become physically dependent very rapidly – and many even lead to potentially life-threatening overdoses.

How Easy is it to Get Addicted to Ecstasy?

Ultimately, there are many factors at play when it comes to the development of an addiction. While some people are more vulnerable than others, no one is entirely immune. Ecstasy is a unique case, because the actual chemical make-up of the drug varies so wildly. All ecstasy is addictive, but formulations containing meth or heroin are, naturally, more addictive than ecstasy laced with caffeine. In short, it depends on the batch a user is taking – and most users have little control or knowledge of the actual contents of their drugs.

On an individual level, both biological and social factors play a role. People with family histories of alcoholism or drug addiction are especially vulnerable, both because substance abuse disorders have a genetic basis and because trauma at home during childhood can cause substance abuse later on in life. Research indicates that ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) are a strong predictor of later struggles with substance abuse. These experiences include trauma, neglect, and even financial difficulties.

It is important to recognize that ecstasy addiction might not look like other addictions. It does not always cause the extreme levels of physical dependence that characterize opioid addiction, for example. Ultimately, though, addiction is defined as an inability to stop using a drug. If a person is experiencing negative consequences from their ecstasy abuse and nonetheless find it difficult to cut down or quit, then they are suffering from a legitimate substance use disorder.

How to Recover From Ecstasy Addiction

Is ecstasy addictive? The answer is a resounding yes. Fortunately, ecstasy addiction, like other addictions, is very treatable. It is recognized by the medical establishment as an authentic mental health disorder, known as substance use disorder. Once this condition has developed, the best course of action is generally enrollment in a qualified outpatient treatment program. These programs can help people stop abusing their substance of choice and get back on their feet.

NuView Treatment Center, located in West Los Angeles, utilizes the latest evidence-based treatment methods to help people with drug addictions lead new and better lives. Our compassionate staff ensure that relapse is averted by helping clients address the underlying reasons for their substance abuse. At the same time, clients work to develop skills and coping tools and they need to stay sober – and that they need to have healthy and fulfilling lives in the outside world. Best of all, NuView Treatment Center’s outpatient programs are flexible and part-time, so people with busy work, school, or family obligations can get the treatment they need without putting their lives on hold.

If you or someone you love is in the throes of ecstasy addiction, reach out to us today.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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