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PCP Addiction & Abuse

Initially designed as an anesthetic, PCP or phencyclidine is a dissociative drug that can cause perceptual distortions, mood fluctuations, and dissociation from reality. Despite its potential dangers, the use of PCP remains prevalent among illicit drug users. PCP use comes with severe physical and psychological risks, including overdose and addiction. At present, strict laws make its use illegal under most circumstances, leading to potentially severe legal consequences for violators.

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What Is PCP?

Phencyclidine (or PCP) is a dissociative drug first utilized for anesthesia purposes. It is able to create numerous effects in a user, such as hallucinations, numbness, loss of coordination, and delusions. 

Once a person starts using PCP, addiction is likely. Because of the drug’s potential for abuse and addiction, and potentially serious mental or physical dependence, the United States categorizes PCP as a Schedule II drug.

As a result of its widespread abuse in the past, the use and possession of PCP is now strictly prohibited by law across many countries. Its toxicity has made many conclude it is unfit for any future use. Although there are still those who choose to use this illicit substance for recreational purposes, regulators have taken measures to limit both access and distribution.

Who Abuses PCP?

While people of all ages use PCP for recreational purposes, use tends to be more common among teenagers and young adults. Use is particularly dangerous in this demographic due to PCP’s effects on hormonal development and growth. PCP use has also been linked to damage to learning processes in young people.  

Men are more likely to use PCP than women.

Recreational use of PCP surged in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, PCP was named as a major drug of abuse in the U.S. In the 1980s, its use began to decline substantially, but it is still abused today, though not at high levels.

PCP is often used in combination with other drugs like marijuana or alcohol. When it is combined with other substances, the drug’s detrimental side effects can be intensified. These symptoms may initially manifest as a loss of inhibition or perception, but continued use can lead to dangerous states, such as psychotic symptoms or even a life-threatening overdose.

Importantly, any PCP use will typically qualify as abuse, as it has no accepted uses. The only real caveat is that it may still see legal, legitimate use in some highly controlled research contexts.

What Are the Causes of PCP Addiction?

PCP changes brain chemistry, and its use is associated with a boost of happiness and energy. These positive feelings reinforce repeated abuse of the drug, and this can quickly lead to addiction.

Like all forms of addiction, certain factors make it more likely that someone will develop PCP addiction, such as these:

  • Genetics
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Peer pressure
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Early use of PCP or other substances

In spite of its comparatively lower levels of addiction potential when compared with the narcotics most associated with addiction, PCP is a very dangerous substance. PCP abuse can result in grave medical complications and may cause legal issues. As a result, avoiding substances like PCP is advisable.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of PCP Addiction?

PCP use is linked to potentially severe adverse effects, such as violent outbursts or psychotic episodes. Its association with violence dates back decades.

Other signs of PCP addiction include the following: 

  • Loss of control over their PCP use
  • Persistent cravings for PCP even when not under the influence
  • Increased tolerance, necessitating higher doses for desired effects 
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Changes in behavior, such as mood swings, secrecy, and dishonesty 
  • Financial issues due to spending money on PCP 
  • Relationship problems 
  • Anxiety

Withdrawal Symptoms From PCP

Regular use of PCP can result in dependence, and some people may experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking PCP. 

Headaches and sweating are two symptoms most frequently associated with suddenly stopping or reducing PCP intake. However, these symptoms do not appear to generally be particularly severe. 

Cravings for the drug can be intense, however, and this is often what prompts continued abuse.

Can You Overdose on PCP?

Overdosing on PCP is possible and can have serious consequences, including leading to coma or death. In the event of severe respiratory depression, where breathing is severely weakened, the person may also develop temporary or permanent brain damage if not promptly treated.

Symptoms of a PCP overdose can include the following:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Muscle rigidity
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death

It is difficult to predict the level of PCP abuse that may lead to an overdose, and individuals can react very differently to the same doses of PCP. An overdose becomes more likely if PCP is mixed with other types of drug use, especially the use of depressants, such as alcohol. 

Overdose is a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention is needed.

Treatment Options for PCP Abuse

While PCP isn’t as addictive as some other drugs of abuse like opioids and benzodiazepines, people still become addicted to the substance. If you are unable to stop your PCP abuse, it’s a sign that you need help. 

Treatment for PCP abuse and addiction include the use of medical care, therapy, supervision and support, and medications, as needed. There is no medication that treats PCP addiction specifically, as there is with opioid use disorder, but medications may be prescribed for certain symptoms of withdrawal of co-occurring conditions. 

The bulk of addiction treatment for PCP abuse involves therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common choice in addiction treatment. This therapy involves identifying thought patterns that lead to dangerous behaviors and working to reshape how you think to avoid engaging in dangerous activities, like PCP abuse. 

You may also benefit from participating in support groups, where you will interact with individuals who also struggle with addiction. In this setting, you can learn from people with similar experiences, and you can gain a greater sense of self-worth as you support others. 

Any treatment plan for PCP addiction should be individualized to suit your specific needs. For example, you may need treatment for co-occurring disorders if you struggle with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue. 

If you’ve been abusing PCP or any other substance and unable to stop, reach out for help today. With the right treatment and support, you can successfully leave substance abuse behind you and begin to live a better life.

Updated March 21, 2024
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