By Christi van Eyken
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the United Sates among people between the ages of 10 and 24. Data from the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NSHDA) suggests that adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are at particularly high risk for suicide attempts if they use the illegal drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as ecstasy.
Information about adolescent ecstasy use and suicide was gathered from the adolescent subsample of the 2000 NSHDA and published in 2011 in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology. Researchers from Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute shared authorship of the study.
Alcohol, cocaine and inhalants have been previously shown to increase the risk of suicide among adolescents, but the impact of other substances like ecstasy on suicidal behaviors in this demographic was not well studied.
Negative Comedown Of Ecstasy
However, ecstasy had already become associated with suicidal behaviors on an anecdotal level because of the negative reaction that many users report having after their high wears off. The “come down” from an episode of ecstasy can be so challenging that the term “Suicide Tuesday” is sometimes used to describe the experience of ecstasy leaving the system after weekend drug use.
The results of this latest study suggest that the term may be even more apt than many people suspected. The researchers found that adolescent ecstasy users are not only at greater risk for suicide attempts than non-drug users, but also at greater risk compared to adolescents who use other drugs that have been linked to suicidal behavior.
Insane Rate Of Suicide For Ecstasy Users Compared To Non-Users
The rate of suicide attempts among 12-17 year-olds who had a lifetime history of ecstasy use was more than nine times the rate of suicide attempts among adolescents with no history of using illicit drugs of any kind. This is a startling figure, but perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that the rate of suicide attempts among young ecstasy users was more than twice the rate of suicide attempts among young people who use other substances, like cocaine or alcohol, that have themselves been shown to increase the risk of suicide.
Future Studies Can Clarify Relationship Between Ecstasy And Suicide
While this study shows a clear correlation between ecstasy use and elevated suicide attempts, the authors say further research is needed to clarify the nature of that correlation. This study, though extensive in its scope, is not able to show whether ecstasy use independently contributes to suicidal behavior, or whether there is some other factor that contributes to both.
There is some evidence that regular ecstasy use may contribute to depressed moods. Previous studies have shown that ecstasy use may contribute to the damage of serotonin receptors, which means that less serotonin can be absorbed. Less serotonin may cause symptoms of depression, or a worsening of depressive symptoms.
Troublingly, some users may be drawn to ecstasy in order to get relief from depression and anxiety. In the short term, this drug decreases anxiety and causes a rush of euphoria — hence its nickname. Other drugs also cause euphoria and feelings of relaxation, but ecstasy has become popular for casual experimenting because it is not physically addictive like cocaine or opiates.
The potential appeal of ecstasy for people who are dealing with depression or anxiety may be part of the explanation as to why suicide attempts are higher among people with a lifetime history of using this drug. Nevertheless, the dramatically increased risk of suicide attempts and the studies showing damage to serotonin receptors suggest that ecstasy may actually contribute in some way to suicidal behaviors.
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