Scope of the problem
What are club drugs?
What are the medical hazards?
What is the risk for HIV/AIDS?
What are the effects on the brain?
What is the extent of use?
Are club drugs addictive?
The path to healing
A number of our nation's best monitoring mechanisms are
detecting alarming increases in the popularity of some very dangerous
substances known collectively as "club drugs".
This term refers to drugs used by young adults at all-night dance
parties such as "raves" or "trances" which are
often held in warehouses and bars. MDMA (Ecstasy), GHB,
rohypnol, ketamine, methamphetamine, and LSD are some of the club
or party drugs gaining popularity.
Although users may think these substances are harmless, research
has shown that club drugs can produce a range of unwanted dangerous
effects, including hallucinations, paranoia, amnesia, and, in some
cases, death. When used with alcohol, these drugs can be even more
harmful. Some club drugs work on the same brain mechanisms as alcohol
and, therefore, can dangerously boost the effects of both substances.
While kids who attend raves and trances may not use drugs, many
are attracted to use because of the low cost, seeming stamina and
intoxicating highs that are said to deepen the experience.
Also, there are great differences among individuals in how they
react to these substances – no one can predict how he or she
will react. Some people have been known to have extreme, even fatal,
reactions the first time they use club drugs. And studies suggest
club drugs found in party settings are often adulterated or impure,
thus making them even more dangerous.
Many problems club drug users encounter are similar to those found
with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. Recent research also links
Ecstasy use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical
to thought, memory, and pleasure.
MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), called
"Adam", "Ecstasy", or "XTC" on the
street, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with hallucinogenic
and amphetamine-like properties.
"Liquid Ecstasy", or Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
may be made in homes by using recipes with common ingredients.
At lower doses, GHB can relax the user, but, as the dose increases,
the sedative effects may result in sleep, eventual coma or death.
"Roche" (Rohypnol) is tasteless and
odorless. It mixes easily in carbonated beverages. Rohypnol may
cause individuals under the influence of the drug to forget what
happened. Other effects include low blood pressure, drowsiness,
dizziness, confusion, and stomach upset.
"Special K" (Ketamine) is an anesthetic.
Use of a small amount of ketamine results in loss of attention
span, learning ability, and memory. At higher doses, ketamine
can cause delirium, amnesia, high blood pressure, depression,
and severe breathing problems.
"Speed", "Ice", "Meth" (Methamphetamine)
is often made in home laboratories. Methamphetamine use can cause
serious health concerns, including memory loss, aggression, violence,
psychotic behavior, and heart problems.
"Acid" or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
may cause unpredictable behavior depending on the amount taken,
where the drug is used, and the user's personality. A user might
feel the following effects: numbness, weakness, nausea, increased
heart rate, sweating, lack of appetite, flashbacks and sleeplessness.
No club drug is benign. Chronic abuse appears to produce long-term
damage to the brain. It is likely that club drug use can cause a
variety of behavioral and cognitive consequences as well as impairing
memory. Uncertainties about the drug sources, pharmacological agents,
chemicals used to manufacture them, and possible contaminants make
it difficult to determine toxicity, consequences, and symptoms that
might be expected in a particular community.
Physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth-clenching,
nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Increases
in heart rate and blood pressure are a special risk for people
with circulatory or heart disease.
Club drug-related fatalities at raves have been reported. The
stimulant effects of the drug, which enable the user to dance
for extended periods, combined with the hot, crowded conditions
usually found at raves can lead to dehydration, hyperthermia,
and heart or kidney failure.
Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression,
sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia - during
and sometimes weeks after taking a club drug (even psychotic episodes)
have been reported.
At present, research indicates that abuse during pregnancy may
result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery
and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes
and extreme irritability. Ecstasy abuse during pregnancy may be
linked to congenital deformities. There is also evidence that people
who develop a rash that looks like acne after using MDMA are risking
severe side effects, including liver damage, if they continue to
use the drug.
Increased HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission
are likely consequences of increased abuse of club drugs. The combination
of drugs and sexual risks results in HIV becoming a greater problem
among club drug abusers and other drug abusers, particularly on
the east and west coasts of this country.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) research has found
that, through drug abuse treatment, prevention and community-based
outreach programs, drug abusers can change their risk behaviors.
Drug use can be eliminated and drug-related risk behaviors can be
reduced significantly thus decreasing the risk of exposure.
Ecstasy was initially perceived as a drug with few adverse effects,
as amphetamine had been until the mid-1960's. As with amphetamine,
however, widespread use is now resulting in reports of confusion,
anxiety, panic attacks, depression, sleeping difficulties, depersonalisation,
derealisation, hallucinations, flashbacks, paranoia, psychosis,
tolerance and dependency syndromes, and subsequent addiction to
sedatives. In terms of explaining adverse reactions to club drugs,
the focus has been to a very large extent upon possible brain chemical
changes as described above. There has been a tendency to ignore
the fact that they release emotions and can have marked effects
upon the psychodynamic balance of the mind.
Research shows that MDMA destroys serotonin-producing neurons in
the brain, which play a direct role in regulating aggression, mood,
sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. It is probably
this action on the serotonin system that gives MDMA its purported
properties of heightened sexual experience, tranquility, and conviviality.
Club drugs are related in their structure and effects to methamphetamine,
which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing
the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying
cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson's disease. Symptoms
of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors and
can eventually result in a form of paralysis.
Each year, NIDA reports on the nature and extent of drug use among
the American household population aged 12 and older. The 1998 survey
found that an estimated 1.5 percent (3.4 million) of Americans at
least 12 years old had used ecstasy at least once during their lifetime.
By age group, the heaviest use (5 percent or 1.4 million people)
was reported for those between 18 and 25 years old.
In 1996, NIDA began to collect data on ecstasy use among students.
Rates of use remained relatively stable from 1996 to 1999 for students
in the 8th grade, while usage among 10th and 12th-graders showed
an increase. The number of 12th-graders that had used ecstasy in
their lifetime increased from 5.8 percent in 1998 to 8.0 percent
in 1999. On the other hand, the largest change for 10th-graders
occurred in past year use, which increased from 3.3 percent in 1998
to 4.4 percent in 1999.
Because club drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they
can be added unobtrusively to beverages by individuals who want
to intoxicate or sedate others. In recent years, there has been
an increase in reports of club drugs used to commit sexual assaults
and appears to be an escalating trend. Due to concern about
these abused sedative-hypnotics, Congress passed the "Drug-Induced
Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996". This legislation
increased Federal penalties for use of any controlled substance
to aid in sexual assault.
An undetermined percentage of club drug abusers become addicted
to these drugs, as evidenced by their continuing to take them in
spite of physical problems, negative effects on social relations,
or nervousness and irritability. Also, they spend large amounts
of time and money obtaining the drugs and experience withdrawal
symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite,
insomnia, reduced sex drive, and the desire to take more drugs.
The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because
it sometimes leads to suicide attempts. Untreated, some depressive
symptoms associated with club drug withdrawal have been known to
persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs.
Club drugs are clearly dangerous drugs, which pose a particular
threat to the health and well-being of children and adolescents
at a critical point in their lives - when they are growing, learning,
maturing, and laying the foundation for their adult years. Children
look to parents for help and guidance in working out problems and
in making decisions, including the decision not to use drugs. Parents'
role modeling by not using club drugs and other illegal drugs reinforces
There is no magic bullet for preventing teenage drug use. But
parents can be influential by talking to their children about the
dangers of using club drugs and other drugs and by remaining actively
engaged in their children's lives.
Even after teenage children enter high school, parents should stay
involved in the schoolwork, recreation, and social activities of
their children. Studies shows that appropriate parental monitoring
can reduce future drug use, even among those adolescents who may
be prone to drug use, such as those who are rebellious, cannot control
their emotions, and experience internal distress.
While not everyone who uses club drugs becomes addicted, when a
user begins to seek out and take the drug compulsively, that person
is said to be dependent on the drug or addicted to it.
Serenity Lane has pioneered the Advanced Integrated Model of Addiction
Treatment (AIMAT). This model focuses education and therapy on the
always-present psychological core of the addiction experience: psychological
dependency, mental obsession, emotional compulsion, and the complex
pattern of safeguarding behaviors that hide the reality of the illness
from both patient and family.
We directly address the physical and psychological elements of
dependency disorders, as well as the defeating beliefs that accompany
addiction. We give our patients and family members an unparalleled
understanding about themselves, their disease, their thinking patterns,
and alternative behaviors necessary for abstinence from mood-altering
chemicals or experiences.
For further information on Serenity Lane's treatment programs,
Call (541) 687-1110 orToll-free 1-800-543-9905.