PCP Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with PCP addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding PCP Addiction

Learn about PCP addiction

PCP, which is an abbreviation for phencyclidine, is a powerful and dangerous substance that can cause the onset of hallucinations and cause those who use it to fall into a state of dissociation. Often referred to as rocket fuel or angel dust, PCP was first created for anesthetic purposes. PCP often comes in tablet or powder form, and is commonly abused by being swallowed, snorted, dissolved, injected, or smoked. Regardless of how an individual chooses to consume PCP, doing so can cause a series of intense effects, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and the urge to partake in an aggressive manner.

When an individual abuses PCP, he or she places himself or herself at risk for suffering serious physical and psychological harm, and possibly puts those around him or her in danger as well. Impaired cognition, the development of chemical dependence, and psychosis are some of the many upsetting effects of PCP abuse.

Phencyclidine use disorder can be very hard to overcome without professional intervention and assistance. Fortunately, effective treatment exists and can help individuals defeat the urge to abuse PCP and can empower them to achieve healthy, drug-free futures.


PCP addiction statistics

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that nearly 2.5% of the United States population has abused PCP at least one time, with the greatest lifetime prevalence of PCP abuse (2.9%) found within the 25 and older age group. Research completed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that approximately 120,000 Americans will abuse PCP at one point within a 12-month period. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) states that between 2005 and 2011, the yearly number of PCP-related visits to emergency rooms in the United States increased from 14,825 to 75,538. Over the same period of time, the 25-34 age group experienced the greatest increase in PCP-related emergency room visits, with more than a 500% increase, from 5,556 in 2005 to 34,329 in 2011. Two-thirds of PCP-related emergency room visits in 2011 included male patients according to DAWN.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PCP addiction

According to the APA, experts have been unable to identify significant genetic or environmental risk factors that can impact an individual’s risk for abusing or becoming addicted to PCP. The APA does note that those who are admitted to drug treatment programs with a primary diagnosis of phencyclidine use disorder are commonly younger than those who are treated for other types of substance abuse.

The APA also reports that women and men who partake in treatment for phencyclidine use disorder are also more likely to have a lower education than the average individual who enters into a drug treatment program, and are more likely to live in West and Northeast regions of the country.

Risk Factors:

  • Prior substance abuse
  • Geography (PCP abuse is more common in the U.S. west and northeast)
  • Age (PCP abuse is more common among individuals ages 25 and above)
  • Gender (PCP abuse is far more common among women than among men)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PCP addiction

Because of the severity and unpredictability of the effects of PCP, there is not one solitary sign or set of symptoms that will be present within all cases of PCP abuse. However, the following are among some of the most common indicators that an individual might be abusing or might be dependent upon PCP:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Dedicating significant time to the acquisition and use of PCP
  • Abusing PCP in situations in which it is clearly unsafe to do so, such as when operating a motor vehicle
  • Desiring to end or significantly curtail one’s abuse of PCP, but being incapable of doing so
  • Behaving in illegal, reckless, and/or otherwise dangerous ways
  • Behaving in an uncharacteristically aggressive or violent manner
  • Continuing to use PCP even after experiencing negative repercussions related to prior use

Physical symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Numbness in arms and legs
  • Muscle spasms
  • Respiratory distress
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Dizziness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Amnesia
  • Dissociation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic and violent mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Agitation and irritability


Effects of PCP addiction

Continued abuse of PCP and allowing phencyclidine use disorder to persist can cause an individual to suffer from many negative outcomes, including:

  • Homelessness
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Cognitive damage
  • Psychosis
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Unemployment
  • Financial distress
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Physical harm due to dangerous actions while under influence of PCP
  • Family discord
  • Ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Substandard occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Diminished academic performance


Signs, symptoms, and effects of PCP withdrawal

When an individual becomes dependent on PCP, ending his or her abuse of this substance might trigger the onset of many upsetting symptoms, including:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Muscle twitches
  • Memory problems
  • Diminished speech
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Depression


Signs, symptoms, and effects of PCP overdose

An individual who exhibits the symptoms below after consuming PCP may have overdosed, and should seek immediate medical help:

  • Convulsions
  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Rapid uncontrolled lateral eye movements
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Tachycardia
  • Diminished response to pain
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Loss of muscle control

Co-Occurring Disorders

PCP addiction and co-occurring disorders

Those who abuse PCP and develop phencyclidine use disorder might be at increased risk for experiencing the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
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