Could we actually use ecstasy (MDMA) to one day treat alcoholism?
Researchers say that it is possible.
Yahoo News reports that “The drug has shown promise in treating those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, researchers showed that after more than one year after two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy, about 67 per cent of participants no longer had the condition.”
Interestingly, researchers are also using psychedelics in order to treat depression, and they are experimenting with developing medications based on this.
It makes for shocking headlines, no doubt. Everyone instantly recoils in horror at the idea of using LSD or MDMA to treat seemingly innocent patients, but you need to keep in mind a few things.
One is that the dose is often far less than what an addict would use in the streets in order to abuse the substance. So do not picture a person taking “club level amounts of MDMA” in order to overcome their alcoholism. If and when it becomes a real medication on the market, it would be far more controlled than that, and distributed in a way that is far safer.
Second of all, some of this research being done with MDMA and psychedelics is showing some seriously impressive results. In other words, they really seem to work well, and these impressive results are what are driving the research in the face of such a heavy stigma. If the drugs only helped a tiny bit, because of the massive negative stigma that is associated with these street drugs, they would never come to clinical trials because the world just doesn’t want their grandmother taking heroin or cocaine, even if it is prescribed, because that just sounds so awful. But because the results are so impressive, researchers cannot deny that there is real promise with these substances, and there they are pursuing more clinical trials.
I think it is important to keep in mind that taking a medication in order to treat an addiction is not a cure all. Perhaps that is why they call it “Medication assisted treatment” or MAT for short. The medication is not the cure for addiction or alcoholism, it is merely assisting in the recovery process.
To that effect, I would want to caution anyone who is serious about recovery about the danger of looking too much into MAT solutions. They now have medications that can assist with most types of addictions–for example, Suboxone for opiate addiction, or Vivitrol for alcoholism, and there are new ones being developed all the time for addictions to various substances. Many of these medications work in different ways and seek to accomplish different goals, such as blocking reward centers in the brain from a drug, or filling in brain receptors in order to reduce cravings, and so on. Researchers are still finding new ways to hack the brain and reduce the negative effects of drug alcohol addiction in various ways.
While all of these new medications to help treat addiction and alcoholism are certainly hopeful, none of them really represent anything like a magic bullet just yet. We are not at the point in which a pill can be used to cure alcoholism or drug addiction. However, progress is certainly being made and new medications are always being developed.
That said, the person who is actively seeking out MAT or a solution that comes in the form of a pill is, in my opinion, headed for trouble. The reason that I say this is because I have watched and observed hundreds of struggling addicts and alcoholics who came through short term treatment, and then some of these people requested MAT while others did not.
The key point here is in how eagerly the addict or alcoholic sought out, or demanded, some form of MAT.
That probably sounds a bit strange, but this is what I observed: The more adamantly a person insisted that they needed some sort of MAT, the less likely that person was to stay clean and sober in the long run. This was evidenced, to me, by those people coming back to rehab at a later date, obviously to try to get clean and sober all over again. Why? Because the MAT that they so eagerly insisted upon had failed to work for them, it failed to keep them clean and sober. Therefore they returned to treatment at a later date.
If you think about the way that clinical studies are orchestrated, you will begin to see that they cannot really test for this “medication seeking” affect when they are testing efficacy of a new medication. They are taking a group of volunteers for the study, giving half a placebo, and then putting them all into therapy and counseling during the clinical trial. Then when the control group does slightly worse than the test group, they approve the medication.
But in the real world, what we essentially have is a group of struggling addicts and alcoholics who, some of which, are just looking for the easier and softer way. In other words, the people who clamor the most for MAT are the people who are setting themselves up to fail, because secretly, in the back recesses of their mind, they have a secret hope and a secret belief that taking MAT will magically cure their drug or alcohol problem. If you ask them outright, they will deny this secret belief and say that they fully intend to go to AA meetings, they fully intend to work the steps, they fully intend to read the literature every day, and so on. Such people will pay lip service to the idea that their MAT medication is only a side note in their quest for recovery, but deep down their brain is secretly hoping that it will fix everything for them.
Then, when it doesn’t magically fix everything, they fall back into chaos and self medicating.
This is not to say that there is no hope for MAT, or that no one should ever pursue it. This is just to say: If you do give MAT a chance, you should double your efforts in counseling, therapy, meetings, and the rest of your recovery plan. Because relying on MAT to be your entire solution is a sure-fire path to relapse.