In 1914, the German drug company Merck developed a revolutionary new drug to help suppress the appetite and help people lose weight. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that the drug could do even more in terms of helping patients open up and talk about their feelings with their therapists. The drug may sound revolutionary, given this history as outlined by a faculty member of the University of Washington, but the drug’s true impact has only recently become known, and now it’s considered one of the most dangerous drugs in the world, as it’s been linked to brain damage in habitual users and recreational users alike. The drug is Ecstasy. This article will help families spot the signs of Ecstasy abuse and learn more about how to help someone who is using the drug, either occasionally or habitually.
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What Is It?
Ecstasy is the brand name for a drug scientists refer to as MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It’s a synthetic drug, meaning that it’s created in a laboratory under controlled conditions. It doesn’t come from a plant or seedpod. It comes from a workbench.
- The Hug Drug
While Ecstasy could be taken anywhere, by anyone, it’s extremely common for teens and young adults to take the drug when they attend dance parties. In fact, it could reasonably be said that Ecstasy was expressly designed to enhance the dance party experience. About an hour after the user takes in Ecstasy, the user feels a sense of connectedness with other people, along with increased perceptions of light, color and sound. Someone on Ecstasy would find a dance floor crowded with other people and shot through with colorful lights to be simply amazing and intoxicating. The nearness of other people, the pulsing music and the flashing colors would all appeal to the distorted sensations caused by Ecstasy use. It’s no wonder that Ecstasy is so popular in these venues.
While Ecstasy may seem like a beneficial drug to take at a party, given these descriptions, the truth is a bit less clear-cut. In fact, many people experience terrible side effects as soon as they take the drug. According to an article published by the National PTA, people who take Ecstasy at parties risk serious immediate health consequences. The drug tends to raise body temperature and decrease the sensation of thirst. This means that teens who are dancing in hot parties while under the influence could find that their core body temperatures are rising and rising, yet they don’t feel compelled to cool off or take a drink of water. At high temperatures and high levels of dehydration, the body begins to break down muscle, releasing a series of chemicals that can be toxic to the kidneys. People could literally cook themselves on the dance floor while they’re taking Ecstasy.
Overdose of Ecstasy is also a real risk for anyone who uses the drug. In an article written for the Canadian Medical Association, a researcher notes that the amount of Ecstasy a person must take to feel an impact from the drug is quite close to the amount of Ecstasy a person must take in order to overdose. It’s an incredibly fine line, and for some people, it’s a difficult line to find. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that visits to emergency departments due to Ecstasy use increased 75 percent from 2004 to 2008. More people seem to be using the drug, and many people seem to be flirting with the idea of an overdose.
People who use Ecstasy also tend to engage in risky sexual behavior while under the influence. They feel the need to cuddle and get close to other people, and they lack the capacity to plan and make good long-term decisions. Pregnancy can result from these encounters, but more serious consequences can also occur. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that gay men who took Ecstasy were more likely to have unprotected sex than were gay men who did not take the drug. This sort of sexual behavior could lead to infection with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Ecstasy changes the way the brain works on a chemical level, and these changes can take up to a week to fully dissipate. During this time of healing, the user can feel a variety of mental changes, including:
- Inability to concentrate
While many drugs cause mental health issues in people who are habitual users, Ecstasy can cause these sorts of severe changes in people who have used the drug only one time. This is, in part, why Ecstasy is so dangerous. Even people who dabble in Ecstasy use can suffer severe consequences that can linger for an extended period of time. People who use Ecstasy each week during dance parties may cycle between extreme happiness while under the influence, and a week of terrible mental side effects as they recover. This seesaw effect could cause severe disturbances in their relationships, their grades and their employment levels.
As mentioned, people who use Ecstasy even one time can face a variety of serious health consequences, some of which can happen immediately and others that can take hold days or months down the line. People who use Ecstasy, even once, put their long-term health at risk.
These consequences may be serious enough on their own, but people who use Ecstasy may also be flirting with a more serious side effect. There are some people who move from using Ecstasy into abuse of the drug. They may feel the need to take the drug each and every time they go to a party, and they may use high levels of the drug each time they go. Over time, this abuse of Ecstasy can lead to a full-blown addiction. According to an article published by the Nemours Foundation, the difference between substance abuse and addiction is very slight. But, in general, someone who abuses a substance is different than an addicted user in one main way: A substance abuser can stop use, if needed. An addicted user cannot do this. An addicted user is compelled to use the substance, no matter the consequence. But, typically, an addiction doesn’t happen overnight. It begins with use, then progresses to abuse and then progresses to addiction.
This cycle can be accelerated when the drug in question is Ecstasy. In fact, this is where Ecstasy abuse can get a bit tricky. A study published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine found that people who use high doses of Ecstasy have a reduction in an important chemical the brain uses for communication. These people aren’t functioning at an optimal level of thinking, due to their abuse of the drug, and they may not be able to make good decisions as a result. A similar study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that these changes can persist in tested monkeys for up to seven years. People who are functioning at a reduced mental capacity may be at a higher risk for addiction. Staying sober means thinking ahead and opting for long-term benefit over short-term gain. People with brain damage may not be able to complete this sort of long-term geometry. In other words, with Ecstasy, use can quickly become abuse, and abuse can quickly become addiction. Stopping the cycle at use is the best way to prevent long-term damage. The more the user takes in Ecstasy, the more difficult it will be to stop the cycle from moving forward and the more difficult it will be to protect the user from brain damage. Families who help a user to stop using Ecstasy in any format are doing their part to keep their loved one safe.
Stopping use of Ecstasy means being alert for the warning signs. People who are using Ecstasy may seem overly affectionate or apt to hug or kiss people they see. They may also feel warm to the touch with sweaty skin. They may also clench their teeth or their fists and complain of nausea. The mental changes mentioned above soon follow these feelings of happiness and warmth, and they can also indicate Ecstasy abuse. Teens who attend multiple dance parties and come home seeming altered should also be suspected of Ecstasy abuse.
People who are abusing Ecstasy may benefit from a simple conversation with a parent or a loved one. This may be all that’s needed to convince the user that the drug is dangerous. Since Ecstasy is provided in pill format and it’s widely available, many people mistakenly believe that the drug is benign and safe for all people to use. Showing users the true facts about Ecstasy use, by asking them to read this article, for example, may open their eyes to the damage that is being done due to their Ecstasy use. These simple conversations may help users to stop taking the drug altogether.
If this honest conversation doesn’t help to curb use, a more rigorous conversation may be in order. These conversations, known as interventions, can help a user realize the seriousness of the use and the benefits of getting help to curb that use. Interventions can be performed in many ways, but in general, an intervention specialist meets with the family in the days before the intervention is held and educates the family about the drug use and how the person should be talked to in a formal intervention. Then, the user is brought into a formal meeting with the family in which each person takes a turn and describes how the Ecstasy use impacts that person directly. People may use comments such as:
- I notice your grades are slipping at school, and I believe your Ecstasy use is to blame.
- When you came home high last night, I was worried about your health and the safety of our children.
- I noticed that you drove home from the party after using Ecstasy, and I am worried that you’ll kill someone doing that.
- I love you and I am worried about your mental health.
The comments are positive and they’re focused on behavior, not blaming. The person isn’t called “dumb,” “stupid” or “weak.” Instead, the person is encouraged to understand how dangerous the drug use is, and then asked to get help.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 60 percent of people who take Ecstasy on a regular basis experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop taking the drug. If the person is using Ecstasy on a daily or weekly basis, that person might need help from a doctor in order to control those painful symptoms and continue to move forward with a drug-free lifestyle. But, not all people need this sort of medical attention. Some families address this issue by talking about withdrawal during their intervention, and asking the person to speak up if he or she experiences any of these symptoms as the days and weeks pass.
For people who have progressed from Ecstasy abuse to Ecstasy addiction, more intensive help is in order. These people may need targeted therapy programs in addition to medication management, so they can get the help they need to curb their cravings and resist relapse temptation in the future. It can be beneficial help for people who are enduring a compulsive urge to use Ecstasy on a regular basis.
At Axis, we specialize in providing programs that can help people overcome their addiction issues. Our programs are provided on an inpatient basis, allowing people to step away from their routine lives and focus on getting better. This could be just the sort of help an Ecstasy addict needs to recover. Call us today to find out more.