Can you fight alcohol addiction with another drug? It may sound bizarre, but British researchers think so. A small study suggests that MDMA, the active substance of the party drug ecstasy (ecstasy), can help people stop their alcohol abuse. Of course, the use of MDMA must take place in a medically controlled environment.

In itself, the use of hallucinogens against psychiatric problems, such as addiction and depression, is not new. In the 1950s and 1960s, this medical potential of hard drugs was fully studied. But then came the global psychedelic ban and the research largely fell silent.

In recent years, however, scientists around the world have been launching projects back into this field of research. For example, there is a lot of interest in the possible benefits of MDMA (Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine), a chemical that is popular as a party drug. It is usually used in pill form (ecstasy), but can also be found in powders and crystal form. MDMA would be useful, among other things, in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A new study from the UK now also highlights the potential for fighting alcoholism.

For the BRITISH study, 14 people with alcohol problems received psychotherapeutic treatment for eight weeks during 10 sessions. In two of those sessions, the subjects were also given small doses of MDMA. After treatment, they were followed up for nine months.

The results of the experimental method were particularly positive. Nine months after treatment, eight in 10 participants drank less than 14 units of alcohol per week, while the average alcohol consumption of the subjects for therapy was 130 units. The MDMA probably helped the patients to eliminate anxiety and release negative thinking patterns so that with the help of the psychotherapists they could find solutions to their psychological problems.

A parallel study with classical treatment methods produced completely opposite results. In that study, more than 7 in 10 participants drank more than 14 units of alcohol per week after nine months. This is in line with the current problem where people with alcohol problems relapse very often after treatment.

The unconventional therapy did not cause side effects, nor did the negative mood swings that recreational users often complain about. With recreational use, it is often the case that after two or three days people suffer from a kind of hangover that is accompanied by depressive feelings. That hangover is sometimes called “Terrible Tuesdays”. According to the British researchers, that hangover is probably due to the use of multiple types of drugs and other related factors.

Of course, it cannot be stressed enough that the use of MDMA against alcohol abuse can only help under strict medical supervision in a clearly defined therapeutic program. The results of this preliminary study have yet to be confirmed by large-scale research. The British scientists are already preparing such a more extensive study.

Erica Delaney

Erica is an experienced nurse working in the central Florida area. She focuses on subjects related to pregnancy and infant health. She is a mother of two with hobbies ranging from dancing to playing the piano.