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KIDS AND COMMUNITY: Ecstasy has more danger than appeal for adolescents
By: Judy Shepps Battle , Columnist 03/11/2004
KIDS AND COMMUNITY by Judy Shepps Battle:It seems like the risks of "E" are lower than other drugs, but teens have a lot to learn.
"E" is back in the news again ? that's ecstasy, the feel-good party drug. It's also known in the youthful drug culture as blue kisses, the hug drug, the love pill or simply, "X." Recently, a member of the wrestling team at Toms River North High School in New Jersey collapsed during a team practice. He was found to have taken ecstasy the night before. The youngster has since recovered and is back in school, but he ? along with five fellow team members ? was suspended from the team for violating a pledge not to use alcohol, tobacco or drugs. One newspaper reported the wrestling coach as describing the six teens as excellent kids, whom he never thought would be involved with drugs. And I am sure these youngsters are exactly that ? excellent kids. Excellent kids, like the approximately 2 million teenagers (one of every 11) in America who experimented with "E" in 2003. Excellent kids, who probably do not consider ecstasy to be a real drug, like cocaine or heroin. Excellent kids, like yours and mine. What is the lure of ecstasy? And what steps can be taken to reduce the potential harm that can occur through casual experimentation with this drug?
Ecstasy ? methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, ? is a synthetic psychoactive drug with amphetamine-like (speed) and hallucinogenic properties. The government banned the substance in 1985 and currently classifies it as a Schedule I drug, thus grouping it with drugs such as heroin, cocaine and LSD. "E" was first invented in 1912 and used primarily as an appetite suppressant. It didn't come into the popular culture until the 1970s, when young people started using it recreationally. It returned to favor in the 1990s with the rise of the club drug culture, and all-night dances or raves. But ecstasy is more than an energizing force for all-night partying. In addition to its stimulating properties, it also decreases anxiety and produces a calming effect ? understandably appealing to teens immersed in the emotional and hormonal angst of adolescence.
What is the true appeal of ecstasy? The simple answer is that it makes one feel good about oneself and others, while feeling part of a larger community. About 30 minutes after ingestion, the person feels peaceful, empathetic and energetic. Unlike drugs (such as marijuana, LSD, or cocaine) that produce confused states, ecstasy produces clarity. In contrast to normal social isolation, a user often talks endlessly and shares inner feelings with complete strangers. For the life of the drug dose, utopia is created ? a microcosm of world peace, safety, and love. Said one college student: "It makes you feel euphoric, loving and in touch with the world and people around you. The dance floor is no longer a scary place. It is a tribe, people moving in unison, filled with the same delight."
The Down Side
Many ecstasy users say the insights revealed in their first "E" experience motivated them to change their lives and pursue inner dreams. They point to a feeling of oneness with people and nature that is hypnotic. Unfortunately, as with cocaine, the intensity, insight, and power of the first "E" high is rarely repeated. In addition, the "E" high is often followed by depression and difficulty with memory recall that may last up to a week. This is because "E" works by rapidly raising the level of serotonin ? a feel-good brain chemical ? to very high levels, which depletes the store. As a result, Ecstasy users awaken the next day with very low serotonin levels and feel off-base until pre-usage levels are restored. "After ecstasy, I feel far away from everything, like I am just looking from a distance," notes a successful graduate student at a prestigious university. "Nothing in my life feels worth spending energy on. Nothing in my life feels as good as the feeling I get the first few hours when I am rolling." Research studies suggest that repeated use of ecstasy leads to problems with sleep, mood, and anxiety, as well as increased impulsivity, and attention and/or memory problems. Some investigators report that these effects may continue up to two years after the drug is stopped. But few teens are future-oriented enough to seriously consider long-term effects of drug misuse, and many simply dismiss ecstasy's bad press as more evidence of a generation gap. As one articulate teen says, "I don't understand how people who have never taken "E" can be so against us using it. I know my mom's generation took drugs that were worse for them and they survived."
Reducing the Harm
If we are to help our kids successfully navigate adolescence, we must do more than issue dire warnings about drugs or admonish them against disobedience. We must offer accurate information, act as role models, and communicate with empathy. Many school health classes provide basic information about ecstasy, and ? let's hope ? suggest abstinence, along with offering harm-reducing information for those who choose to experiment. Students should be aware, for example, that "E" users at a rave are at risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration and must stay hydrated with water. They should realize that street-manufactured "E" can vary in quality, contain harmful ingredients, and may not contain MDMA. All students should be taught basic first aid for adverse drug reactions ? in oneself and in peers ? and the importance of calling emergency services (911) under such circumstances. Additionally, health program information must be reinforced in a student's home life. Even the best lessons can be negated by parents or older siblings who model risk-taking behavior by using or abusing alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Family members should be knowledgeable enough about ecstasy to have informed discussions with their teens, whether or not there has been drug use.
Talking Talking Talking
Lastly, all conversations about ecstasy should be grounded in adult empathy, rather than judgment. This is particularly important if a teen is caught using the drug. The surest way to show empathy is to remember the turbulence and rebellion of your own teen years, even if drugs never played a part. Perhaps your own adolescent limit-testing involved underage driving, sneaking into the house after curfew, or dating the wrong person. How did the adults in your life treat your transgressions? What kind of adult-teen conversations would have been helpful to you? Armed with such perspective, we can help our kids avoid harm and learn from their mistakes. Not only will they make better decisions with regard to ecstasy, they also are more likely to come to us with regard to other key events in their teen and adult years. Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at Judy@writeaction.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her Web site at www.writeaction.com/.
?PACKETONLINE News Classifieds Entertainment Business - Princeton and Central New Jersey 2004