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Recognizing Ecstasy Abuse in a Teen: Telltale Signs

Ecstasy is a popular club drug among teens and young adults, often used to enhance energy and feelings of euphoria.

Ecstasy, one of the designer club drugs, has become one of the most commonly abused drugs by teens in circulation today.  Its chemical component, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA is a combination of amphetamines and mescaline.  According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for teens, approximately 6% of students in the 12th grade will have used ecstasy at some point during their teen years.

How Does Ecstasy Work?

Amphetamines work by speeding up the brain, while mescaline has similar properties of a hallucinogen.  Combined, the two work to increase the release of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals:  serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.  Users report feelings of increased energy, euphoria and exaggerated feelings of sexual awareness.

What Does Ecstasy Look Like?

Ecstasy Abuse

Irritability is a common ecstasy hangover symptom.

Because it is largely promoted in younger circles, the drug looks like candy.  It often comes in colorful tablets with stamps or pictures etched into each pill.  It can also come in capsule, powder and is sometimes mixed into liquids.  Ecstasy is marketed as a club drug and has no medicinal value other than enhancing the party atmosphere.

What Signs Should I Watch For With My Teen?

For teenagers, ecstasy is often readily available at clubs, parties and raves.  It increases energy and endurance, so often the drug pops up in locations with music, dancing and flashing lights.  Young people looking to enhance the nightlife experience may be offered ecstasy as a social lubricant.

If you think your teen is abusing ecstasy and need advice or help finding treatment, call 800-609-2774 (Who Answers?) .

How Long Do the Effects of Ecstasy Last?

A single dose of ecstasy lasts between 3 and 6 hours.  Some partiers take a second dose when they feel the effects of the first pill waning.  With dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine flooding the circuits in the brain, ecstasy users feel a sense of well-being, high energy and intimacy with those around them.  After the euphoria abates, users of this drug experience a “hangover” effect that can last up to a week.

Hangover Effect Symptoms

After a night of partying with ecstasy, users generally report ongoing hangover symptoms for a number of days.  Unlike other chemicals, the manner in which ecstasy works in the brain makes it difficult for chemical production to self-regulate.  Thus, watch for these signs after a teen has gone out for a night of dancing and fellowship:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Disinterest in Usual Likes

What are Ecstasy’s Side Effects?

Often the euphoria experienced by ecstasy users, is accompanied by ill effects.  With even just one dose of ecstasy, the following can occur:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Visual Abnormalities
  • Grinding or Gritting Teeth
  • Hyperpyrexia- Seriously High Fever
  • Organ Failure
  • Heart Palpitations

What Treatments are Available for an Addiction to Ecstasy?

Is Ecstasy Really Dangerous?

Ecstasy, like any street drug, is incredibly unpredictable.  Not only is it uncertain how MDMA will react in the body and mind of each individual taking it, the manufacture of the drug is completely uncontrolled.  Law enforcement has found that some pills marketed as ecstasy don’t even contain any MDMA.  Instead they may have a mix of other chemicals including those mixed into the deadly “bath salts” compounds.

Are There Long Term Effects?

Habitual users of MDMA exhibit lasting changes in the brain.  Researchers are unclear as to whether or not these changes are reversible.  There is also a risk of developed MDMA-induced psychotic disorder.  With this disorder, people experience extreme paranoia, confusion, depression and an inability to communicate effectively.  Medical professionals generally treat the disorder with high doses of antipsychotic medications to aide in stabilizing brain chemistry.

My Teen is Using Ecstasy.  What Now?

Get help.  Closely monitoring and limiting access to further exposure may not be enough.  Ecstasy can create lasting changes in brain chemistry; however, even in the absence of these effects, a medical and/or psychiatric evaluation can serve to set a parent’s mind at ease.  Drug abuse develops as a pattern of behavior that needs specific treatment by professionals in this field.  Don’t wait until it is too late.  Call a specialist at 800-609-2774 (Who Answers?)  today to help get your teen back on the right track.


Hall, A. & Henry, J. (2006). Acute toxic effects of ‘ecstasy’ (MDMA) and related compounds: overview of pathophysiology and clinical management. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 96(6): 678-685. Retrieved from:

Kalant, H. (2001) The pharmacology and toxicology of “ecstasy” (MDMA) and related drugs. CMAJ. 165(7): 917-928. Retrieved from:

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). Drug facts:  MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). NIH. Retrieved from:

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (2016). MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). NIDA for Teens.  Retrieved from:

Patel, A., Moreland, T., Haq, F., Siddiqui, F., Mikul, M., et. al. (2011). Primary psychosis after a single ingestion of “ecstasy” (MDMA). The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. Retrieved from:

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