Self-reported PTSD is associated with increased use of MDMA in adolescents with substance use disorders

This survey study (n=121) explored the co-occurrence of PTSD in patients with a substance use disorder (SUD). It was found that SUD patients with PTSD were more likely to use MDMA than those without PTSD and MDMA use was associated with avoidance symptoms. The authors conclude that MDMA use might reflect an attempt to self-medicate to deal with avoidance symptoms however, it may also be the case that MDMA use led to more severe avoidance symptoms.


Background: Adolescent patients with a substance use disorder (SUD) often fulfil the criteria for a co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it is not clear if these dual-diagnosed adolescents present with unique levels of substance use and how their substance use relates to PTSD symptom clusters.

Objective: To investigate substance use in adolescents with co-occurring PTSD and SUD. Additionally, we explored how the use of specific substances is related to specific PTSD symptom clusters. Method: We recruited n = 121 German adolescent SUD patients, in three groups: no history of traumatic events (TEs) (n = 35), TEs but not PTSD (n = 48), probable PTSD (n = 38). All groups were administered a trauma questionnaire and were asked to report their past-month substance use.

Results: Adolescents with probable PTSD and SUD report a higher frequency of MDMA use than adolescents with no PTSD and no TE (PTSD vs. no TE: U = 510.5, p = .016; PTSD vs. TE: U = 710.0, p = .010). The use of MDMA was more frequent in adolescents with avoidance symptoms (X2 (1) = 6.0, p = .014). Participants report using substances at a younger age (PTSD vs. no TE: U = 372.0, p = .001; PTSD vs. TE: U = 653.5, p = .022) and PTSD symptom onset was on average 2.2 years earlier than first MDMA use (t (26) = −2.89, p = .008).

Conclusions: Adolescent SUD patients with probable PTSD are more likely to use MDMA than SUD patients without PTSD. The use of MDMA was associated with reported avoidance symptoms. The first age of MDMA use is initiated after PTSD onset. It is unclear whether the association of MDMA use with avoidance symptoms is due to efforts to reduce these symptoms or a result of regular MDMA use.”

Authors: Lukas A. Basedow, Sören Kuitunen-Paul, Melina F. Wiedmann, Veit Roessner & Yulia Golub

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