So clinical trials have now started in the search to treat alcoholism using ecstasy, or MDMA.
How does this even work? Are people just getting high on pills in order to avoid drinking?
Not exactly. What really happens is that when people are using MDMA in a controlled clinical setting, it allows them to open up and process past trauma in a way that was previously impossible for them.
Huffington Post says that “When someone is able to let go of their normal sense of controlling their emotions or not feeling things or pushing things down, an astonishing type of healing can take place.”
This has proven to be extremely effective in helping people in therapy to process things are normally very scary to them. By taking a certain dose of MDMA they are able to deal with the anxiety that normally accompanies thinking about their particular trauma.
One question that comes up fairly quickly, however, is this: “How does MDMA help an alcoholic to recover exactly?”
Apparently it must be helping the person with cravings and urges, because ultimately that is what it comes down to for many alcoholics who are struggling to remain clean and sober. If they have overwhelming urges to self medicate with alcohol then they are eventually going to pick up a drink. So taking ecstasy must help to curb these urges and cravings in some way.
The other question that comes up is: “How will society ever get past the stigma associated with taking ecstasy?” In other words, would it really ever be socially acceptable to treat alcoholism with a club drug such as MDMA? And won’t people simply accuse alcoholics of switching from one drug to another?
The world of addiction medicine seems to be undergoing some changes lately, and one of them is the shift in thinking regarding various medications for treating addiction. In the past we basically had methadone for heroin addicts, and that was largely viewed in a negative light because methadone was such a powerful replacement drug. And the methadone was exactly that–it was a replacement for the heroin, not a drug designed to help achieve abstinence or to reduce cravings will keeping the person totally clean and sober. Instead, methadone was a straight up replacement–a controlled substance that made the person euphoric and “high.”
The new world that is unfolding in terms of MAT (medication assisted treatment) is not necessarily like that. Instead of simply replacing a drug of choice with something controlled but similar, the new approach is to find unique ways that medications might assist people in recovery. So some of them reduce cravings and urges, some of them mimic the effects in the brain without getting the person high, and so on. Drugs today are “smarter” and the approach is smarter too. Rather than simply trying to get people a buzz and replace their old drug of choice, researchers are finding new and creative ways to use medications to fight against addiction.
Is it working? To some extent, it is. New drugs continue to hit the market that are designed to help in the fight against addiction. MDMA in particular has shown such overwhelmingly positive results when it comes to trauma therapy that it will not be shocking if it is shown to be super effective in the fight against alcoholism. On paper it really looks to be a wonder drug at this point.
Hopefully people can be open minded enough to embrace new solutions without getting caught up in the stigma associated with it. Apparently there are also some trials for using small doses of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD for treating alcoholism as well. Again, the stigma against this sort of thing will be overwhelming, which makes it so strange that the trials are producing such positive results. While it may not become an outright “cure” for addiction, hopefully the results can be so overwhelmingly positive that it is able to transcend the stigma against such drugs as LSD and ecstasy.
One of the things that we need to be especially cautious about is the idea that people will read the headlines and hear about how they are attempting to treat alcoholism with things like MDMA, and then the public will rush out and purchase their own ecstasy off the street and attempt to use it in an unregulated way to try to treat their addiction. This could be extremely dangerous on a number of levels, and it is important to realize that the clinical setting and the correct dosage are super important when dealing with these kinds of treatments. We must take great caution in warning people that they cannot simply buy street drugs and treat their addiction without doing so in a clinical setting while under doctor supervision. Anyone trying to treat their own addiction using street drugs is not going to have any real hope of getting (or even knowing) the ideal dosage, the frequency of dosing, and so on. So we need to be careful in this regard because surely some addicts and alcoholics are going to try to use these ideas to “fix themselves.”
It sounds so bizarre, to think that we could use a club drug such as MDMA to improve the lives of those who struggle with alcoholism. But if early results are any indication, then this really could become a significant part of addiction treatment in the future. Again, we need to remain open to the possibilities when it comes to treating addiction, because we are still very early in terms of our medical knowledge. We have only been researching addiction and its effects on the brain for a very small number of years compared to other medical disciplines, and we are gaining new knowledge at a very rapid pace because we are so early in the learning process.
Can drugs like LSD and MDMA one day become the standard of treatment for addiction? Time will tell. In the meantime, consider going to inpatient rehab if you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism.