Ten years on, clubbers find they cannot kick the ecstasy habit

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The Independent Online
HAVING SPENT years believing ecstasy was non-addictive, thousands of young clubbers have discovered they are hooked. Drug agencies are reporting a massive increase in the numbers finding it impossible to stop taking "tabs".

"Es" took Britain by storm 10 years ago and the first ecstasy generation, now reaching their late 20s and early 30s, are showing all the signs of addiction, especially psychological dependence.

Caroline McDonald, of London's Core agency, said: "The drugs and the social scene has become the centre of their life. They're living just for that and there's nothing much else going on."

John, 33, from Manchester, started taking ecstasy and speed 15 years ago. "It's socially acceptable for people I know to take drugs because everyone does it," he said. "Even though I know they're not good for me, it's difficult to stop. When I go to clubs I see people in a mess and that's why I know I shouldn't take it - but sometimes I feel like I need some to get into the atmosphere, and I always take too much."

Sam, 32, from London, said: "I can't imagine going to a club without taking drugs. I couldn't bear it. I wish I wasn't taking drugs, even though I'm not taking what I used to. Recently, I wasn't able to work until the following Thursday."

This is a common reaction according to Ms McDonald. "They're having more time off, they're not functioning to the capabilities they were before," she said. "They may have lost their job. They're finding it impossible to keep both sides of their life going, because there's only so long you can go before burning out."

Drug agencies claim they are receiving up to 100 calls a week from "E junkies". Ciaran O'Hagan, of London's Release agency, said: "They are saying, where do we go? They want to change their lifestyle and go somewhere else but they're still connected to drugs somewhere along the line."

Alan Haughton, former manager of Manchester's Lifeline agency, worked in the city through the Nineties explosion in dance and drug culture. "We were getting increasing numbers of people who wanted to get off the stimulant roundabout and either didn't have the support network of friends or didn't know the right way of doing it," he said.

The use of drugs like ecstasy has exploded since the early Nineties, with up to a million people taking recreational drugs each weekend. Warnings of adverse reactions and possible health risks have increased over recent years. The MDMA in ecstasy causes changes in brain chemistry and can affect serotonin levels, which are related to mental happiness.

Matthew Collin, author of Altered State, a comprehensive history of dance culture, explained how hard it was for people to readjust. "Drugs are everywhere and unavoidable," he said. "All your friends are still taking drugs. Your whole idea of pleasure and recreation is bound up with drugs.

"It is a psychological addiction to a lifestyle: you can't imagine life being as bright, shiny and fun without psychoactive mood enhancement. In comparison to the glittering empire of nocturnal hedonism, the real world is a rather dull and grey place."