Causes & Effects of MDMA Addiction

Understanding MDMA Addiction

Learn about MDMA addiction and abuse

MDMA, which is often referred to by the slang terms ecstasy, X, and molly, is a synthetic drug with stimulating and hallucinogenic properties. MDMA is an illegal substance that is typically grouped into the informal category of club drugs. When a person ingests MDMA, which most commonly occurs via swallowing the drug in pill or capsule form, he or she is likely to experience a significant increase in alertness, mood, energy, emotional openness, and arousal. MDMA elicits these sensations by interacting with the central nervous system in a manner that triggers the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

The pleasurable effects of MDMA make it a popular substance of abuse, primarily among individuals who attend raves, dance parties, and events that feature electronic dance music. The drug is illegal in the United States as well as in many other countries, and its use exposes individuals to a variety of physical and psychological harm. Individuals who take MDMA often abuse it in combination with other substances, including alcohol, which can magnify the potential for harm. When a person engages in long-term MDMA abuse, he or she may be incapable of stopping this self-defeating behavior without help. Thankfully, professional treatment has proven effective at empowering individuals to overcome the urge to abuse MDMA and to achieve long-term recovery.

Statistics

MDMA addiction statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) between 5 and 10 percent of the adult population in the United States has abused MDMA at least once. MDMA abuse is most common in the young adult demographic group, with NIDA reporting that more than 12 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 26 having abused the drug at least once. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that about 0.1 percent of the U.S. population will develop other hallucinogen use disorder, the clinical term for the category of chemical dependency that includes MDMA addiction.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for MDMA addiction

Research strongly suggests that the following are among the several genetic and environmental factors that may increase a person’s risk for abusing or becoming dependent upon MDMA:

Genetic: Having a parent or sibling who struggled with a substance use disorder or another mental health disorder can raise a person’s risk for developing an addiction. According to the APA, genetics are responsible from between 26 percent and 79 percent of the risk variance for developing dependence upon MDMA. This determination is based upon studies involving male twins. A genetic predisposition for risk-taking behaviors may also increase a person’s risk for MDMA abuse and addiction.

Environmental: Associating with individuals who abuse hallucinogens or who engage in other forms of substance abuse can increase the likelihood that a person will abuse MDMA.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Age (MDMA abuse is most common among young adults ages 18 to 26)
  • Gender (men are slightly more likely than women to abuse MDMA)
  • Access to MDMA
  • Prior abuse of hallucinogens
  • Early exposure to alcohol and tobacco abuse
  • Associating with individuals who abuse MDMA and other hallucinogens

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of MDMA addiction

No single sign or set of symptoms will definitively identify MDMA abuse, but the following are among the more common indicators that a person has been abusing or has become dependent upon this dangerous substance:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting with uncharacteristic energy and apparent lack of need for sleep
  • Acting in an overly empathetic manner
  • Using MDMA after having already experienced negative repercussions from prior use
  • Using MDMA in situations where it is clearly dangerous to do so
  • Trying but failing to end one’s abuse of MDMA
  • Devoting significant time to acquiring, using, and recovering from MDMA

Physical symptoms:

  • Cravings for MDMA
  • Suppressed appetite and resultant weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Impaired vision
  • Clenching teeth
  • Chills

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Euphoria
  • Increased sensitivity to external stimuli
  • Vertigo
  • Memory problems

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Enhanced self-confidence
  • Improved sense of self
  • Heightened sexual arousal
  • Increased empathy and sense of connectedness
  • Loss of inhibitions

Effects

Effects of MDMA addiction

Individuals who continue to abuse MDMA and who do not get the proper treatment for this problem may experience myriad negative effects and outcomes, including the following:

  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Damage to jaw and teeth
  • Heart damage
  • Kidney failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Family discord
  • Strained or damaged interpersonal relationships
  • Substandard academic performance
  • Diminished occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

MDMA addiction and co-occurring disorders

People who have become dependent upon MDMA may also be at increased risk for developing the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of MDMA withdrawal and overdose

Effects of ecstasy withdrawal: After a person has been abusing MDMA for an extended period of time, attempting to stop can trigger the onset of several distressing symptoms, including the following:

  • Intense cravings for MDMA
  • Agitation
  • Headaches, nausea, and chills
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Insomnia
  • Depersonalization
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis

Effects of ecstasy overdose: A person who takes MDMA in a quantity that exceeds his or her body’s ability to process may experience the following symptoms, and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider:

  • Dramatically elevated body temperature
  • Breathing problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Hallucinations
  • Convulsions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

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