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Ecstasy Addiction

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Ecstasy is an illicit synthetic drug that has the properties of stimulants like meth and of hallucinogens like LSD. 

Also known as MDMA or Molly, ecstasy triggers feelings of pleasure, empathy, and heightened energy. At the same time, ecstasy produces mild sensory effects like increased emotional openness and enhanced closeness to others. 

The long-term use of ecstasy can lead to unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Chronic MDMA use can result in severe cognitive impairments, such as problems with memory and learning. 

This guide explores the addictive potential of the club drug known as ecstasy.

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What is Ecstasy?

Ecstasy is a slang name for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). This synthetic drug is a stimulant with potentially hallucinogenic qualities. 

Although the terms ecstasy and Molly are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between these club drugs. While both ecstasy and Molly contain MDMA, ecstasy is pressed into pills or tablets. Molly, by contrast, comes as white powder or a white crystalline substance. 

Molly is often marketed as a purer form of MDMA, but in reality the substance is often adulterated with other ingredients. These may include: 

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Amphetamine
  • Caffeine
  • Rat poison
  • LSD
  • Ketamine 

All forms of ecstasy and MDMA are classified in the United States as Schedule I controlled substances. Like all drugs in this schedule, there is no accepted medical use for ecstasy, and the drug carries a high risk for abuse. 

Ecstasy was first used to treat some psychological disorders such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result of the calming effects the drug induces on social behaviors. As a number of issues with ecstasy become apparent, the drug was discontinued for this purpose. Research into the putative therapeutic effects of ecstasy is robust and ongoing. 

Ecstasy burst to prominent in the U.S. and worldwide in the late 1980s as a club drug used at clubs and raves. Fortunately, ecstasy use has declined significantly since the 2000s.

Is MDMA Addictive?

There is no universal agreement concerning the addictive potential of ecstasy. 

Much depends on the subjective interpretation of the term addictive. Normally, discussions on the addictive potential of a drug refer to the concept of physical dependence. To become dependent on a substance, an individual must develop tolerance to the substance, as well as some level of withdrawal upon discontinuing use. 

Tolerance causes the effects of a drug to diminish with repeated use. When this occurs, many people try taking more of the substance or more frequent doses to achieve the initial effects. With ecstasy, this commonly results in people taking more than one pill as tolerance forms. 

Withdrawal symptoms can develop to many drugs due to the changes in balance the system experiences with sustained drug use. Your system adjusts to the continuous presence of an addictive substance. Moderating or discontinuing use will cause physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms to manifest as the system becomes unbalanced. 

That said, it is not necessary for someone to develop physical dependence to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (the clinical descriptor for drug addiction). Many people meet the criteria for substance use disorders without developing physical dependence.

Moving beyond the issue of physical dependence, substance use disorder is defined by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. Central to addiction is compulsive substance use regardless of negative outcomes. 

Several sources, including NIDA, associate the chronic use of ecstasy with the development of physical dependence. Although some research and professional bodies suggest that tolerance for ecstasy may develop, it is widely accepted that ecstasy use is not associated with clinically significant withdrawal syndrome. The absence of a formally recognized MDMA withdrawal syndrome polarized opinion on whether it is possible to become physically dependent on the drug.

While some withdrawal symptoms may manifest in those who stop using ecstasy after chronic use, symptoms are chiefly psychological. Heavy use of MDMA leads to a massive overproduction of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the brain). When a heavy user of ecstasy stops taking the drug, levels of these neurotransmitters are radically depleted, triggering: 

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Hopelessness
  • Malaise
  • Suicidal ideation

While these psychological symptoms may not be consistent with physical dependence, many people nevertheless experience a pronounced emotional crash when they stop taking ecstasy. 

Regardless of whether or not ecstasy leads to formal withdrawal syndrome, those who have been abusing MDMA long-term would almost certainly benefit from engaging with professional addiction treatment.

MDMA Addiction Symptoms

Those who chronically abuse ecstasy in any form may develop a substance use disorder. APA (American Psychiatric Association) recognizes ten different types of substance use disorder, including hallucinogen use disorder (ecstasy addiction). A diagnosis of hallucinogen use disorder reflects a harmful pattern of compulsive ecstasy use. 

For a diagnosis of hallucinogen use disorder, at least two of the following symptoms must manifest within one year:

  1. Taking larger amounts of ecstasy than intended or using the drug for a longer period than planned.
  2. Making repeated failed attempts to moderate or discontinue use of ecstasy.
  3. Spending lots of time using the drug and recovering from its effects.
  4. Experiencing intense cravings for ecstasy.
  5. Failing to meet personal and professional obligations as a result of recurrent hallucinogen use.
  6. Using hallucinogens in dangerous situations.
  7. Ongoing use of ecstasy even though the drug is causing or inflaming a physical or mental health condition.
  8. Tolerance developing so that the effects of ecstasy diminish.
  9. Continued use of ecstasy even though it is causing or inflaming social and interpersonal problems.
  10. Giving up social and recreational activities in favor of using ecstasy.

Since withdrawal syndrome is not established for hallucinogens, this criteria does not apply when diagnosing ecstasy addiction.

Getting Help for Ecstasy Addiction

While there is not as direct an association between ecstasy and the compulsive patterns of consumption commonly seen with addictions to alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, abusing MDMA in any form can trigger problematic outcomes. 

Even though research indicates that there is no recognized MDMA withdrawal syndrome, anecdotal evidence suggests that repeated dosing of ecstasy leads to a comedown (an extended period of fatigue combined with depressed mood). 

If you feel that your patterns of ecstasy use are problematic, the smoothest pathway to recovery involves engaging with professional treatment. In most cases, an IOP (intensive outpatient program) or a PHP (partial hospitalization program) will provide sufficient support and structure for you to initiate your recovery. We can help you achieve this here at California Detox in Southern California.

MDMA Rehab at California Detox

Here at California Detox, we can help you get back on track if your use of MDMA has spiraled out of control. 

We provide addiction treatment programs at all levels of intensity, including:

  • Inpatient programs (residential rehab)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • Supervised medical detoxification programs
  • Dual diagnosis treatment programs 

The severity of your addiction and your personal circumstances will inform the most appropriate level of treatment intensity. All California Detox programs draw from these evidence-based interventions: 

  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Motivational therapies
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Holistic therapies 

When you are committed to moving beyond abusing MDMA, we can help you to restructure your life and to build the firmest foundation for ongoing recovery. Reach out to the friendly team by calling 949.390.5377.


Ecstasy increases the activity of the following neurotransmitters: 

  • Dopamine: increases energy levels and reinforces behaviors in the reward center of the brain.
  • Serotonin: governs mood regulation, sleep, appetite, pain perception, and libido leading to boosted mood and elevated levels of empathy, sexual arousal, and affection.
  • Norepinephrine: controls blood pressure and heart rate. 

The effects of ecstasy in the brain are similar to those of cocaine and amphetamine, triggering increased alertness and energy together with feelings of emotional warmth and euphoria. 

The chronic abuse of ecstasy can cause excessive amounts of serotonin to be released. Over time, this can cause negative changes in mood, memory, and cognition.

Some researchers suggest that increased levels of compassion during ecstasy use may be due to the increased production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the hypothalamus (an area of the brain). Nicknamed the love hormone, oxytocin appears to increase trust, encourage social bonding, and promote compassion. The current findings, though, provide limited support for the concept of oxytocin producing the prosocial effects associated with ecstasy use.


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