Causes & Effects of PCP Addiction

Understanding PCP Addiction

Learn about PCP addiction and abuse

PCP is a powerful and dangerous drug that can elicit hallucinations and cause those who use it to fall into a dissociative state. Often referred to as angel dust and rocket fuel, PCP is actually short for phencyclidine, which was originally developed as an anesthetic. PCP typically appears as a tablet or a powder, and is most commonly abused by being snorted, swallowed, smoked, or dissolved and injected. Regardless how a person ingests PCP, he or she may experience a series of intense effects, including hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and the urge to act in an aggressive manner.

When a person abuses PCP, he or she puts him or herself at risk for significant physical and psychological harm, and also potentially endangers those with whom he or she comes into contact. Impaired cognition, psychosis, and the development of chemical dependence are some of the many distressing effects of PCP abuse. When a person becomes dependent upon PCP, which is known clinically as developing phencyclidine use disorder, he or she will lose control over his or her ability to regulate the amount and frequency of his or her PCP abuse.

Phencyclidine use disorder can be extremely difficult to overcome without the intervention and assistance of qualified professionals. Thankfully, effective treatment exists that can help people to overcome the urge to abuse PCP and can empower them to pursue healthier drug-free futures.


PCP addiction statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) about 2.5 percent of the U.S. population has abused PCP at least once, with the highest prevalence of lifetime PCP abuse (2.9 percent) found in the 25-and-above age group. Research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that about 120,000 Americans will abuse PCP at least once in a typical 12-month period. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that from 2005 to 2011, the annual number of PCP-related visits to emergency rooms in the United States rose from 14,825 to 75,538. Over the same period of time, the 25-34 age group experienced the largest increase in PCP-related ER visits, with a more than 500 percent increase, from 5,556 to in 2005 to 34,329 in 2011. Two-thirds of PCP-related ER visits in 2011 involved male patients, DAWN reported.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PCP addiction

According to the APA, experts have thus far been incapable of identifying significant genetic or environmental risk factors that may influence a person’s risk for abusing or becoming addicted to phencyclidine. The APA does note that people who are admitted to drug treatment programs with a primary diagnosis of phencyclidine use disorder are typically younger than people who are treated for other forms of substance abuse.

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

Risk factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PCP addiction

Because of the intensity and unpredictability of PCP’s effects, no single sign or set of symptoms will be present in all cases of PCP abuse. However, the following are among the more common indicators that a person may have been abusing or may have become dependent upon PCP:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Behaving in an uncharacteristically aggressive or violent manner
  • Continuing to use PCP even after experiencing negative repercussions related to prior use
  • 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
  • Dedicating significant time to the acquisition and use of PCP
  • Behaving in illegal, reckless, and/or otherwise dangerous ways

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of PCP addiction

Continued PCP abuse and untreated phencyclidine use disorder can cause a person to experience several negative outcomes, including the following:

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

Dual Diagnosis

PCP addiction and dual diagnosis

Individuals who abuse PCP and develop phencyclidine use disorder may be at increased risk for certain additional mental health disorders. In clinical terms, people who have more than one disorder at the same time are said to be experiencing dual diagnosis. PCP abuse and addiction have been associated with the following conditions:

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

Many people who seek professional care for addiction don’t realize they are also struggling with another disorder. This is why it can be essential to choose a center that can identify the full scope of your needs, and provide dual diagnosis programming if necessary. Without effective care to address your dual diagnosis, you may find it extremely difficult to achieve and maintain long-term recovery from PCP addiction.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of PCP withdrawal and overdose

Effects of PCP withdrawal: When a person has become dependent upon PCP, stopping his or her abuse of this drug may trigger the onset of several distressing symptoms, including the following:

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

Effects of PCP overdose: A person who exhibits the following symptoms after ingesting PCP may have overdosed, and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider:

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


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