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PCP Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms


Preparing yourself for the challenges and effects of quitting PCP not only shows courage, it shows that you’re ready, willing and committed to removing PCP from your life. As with many drugs, PCP can lead a lot of people to dependency. Escaping its grasp can be a battle, but the more you educate yourself on the drug and the science behind how it’s affecting your body, the more confidence you will have when kicking the habit.

Quitting can take a very serious toll on the body, mentally and physically, ultimately, making the process very difficult to follow through with. Having a good support group including friends, family, and rehabilitation counsellors is extremely helpful, but every case is different — some people don’t have access to support resources, or they may have extended periods where they are alone.

That’s why it’s important to have your own back, and the best way to support yourself is through knowledge and information. We not only want to help you quit, we want you to know what to expect every step of the way. And with that, hopefully you will never find yourself wondering why, because confusion and obscurity is the enemy of making change. It’s important to know your goals, and know what it’s going to take to get there.

Before we cover PCP withdrawal symptoms and what to expect, we have to discuss how the drug affects the body and whether or not you may be addicted.

What is PCP?

Originally Phencyclidine, was developed as a surgical anesthetic. However, it was never used in medical practice because of its harsh side effects. It’s classified as a dissociative drug which act by disorienting the regular behavior of a neuro-chemical known as glutamate. Glutamate helps the functionality of learning, memory, emotion and the perception of pain. When PCP is introduced to the brain it alters glutamate’s ability to properly transmit to nerve cells receptors. In addition, excess dopamine is also released causing a sense of euphoria. People usually report entering a trance state and having an out of body-like experience. It’s typically in powder form, tablet or capsule, and is usually abused through oral ingestion, smoking, or liquid injection

Effects of PCP

Inhibiting neurotransmission and tapping into the brain’s dopamine wells is very detrimental to long term cognitive function, especially with prolonged use. It’s like leaving a light bulb on 24 hours a day — it will significantly reduce its longevity. Some of the major physical and emotional consequences of long-term PCP use include:

  • Memory loss
  • Speech problems
  • Weight loss
  • Damage to central nervous system
  • Depression
  • In some cases it can lead to violent behavior, ultimately resulting in damaged relationships and encounters with the law

Signs of Addiction

When users begin to feel like they need PCP to function, that is a clear cut sign that addiction has set in. An unhealthy shift in reality has taken place, and the body believes that the “high-state” is the normal state. This is a dangerous place to be because abusers often lose sight of how much damage they are actually doing.

Some signs of moderate or early PCP addiction include:

  • Persistent sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess breathing rates
  • Delusions
  • Loss of reality
  • Hallucinations
  • Reduced muscle coordination

If you are in a more advanced stage of abuse, signs may include:

  • Trouble balancing
  • Loss of eye movement control
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Manic episodes
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Psychosis is one of the most common effects of PCP addiction. It results in a mental state similar to schizophrenia — so much so that researchers use PCP to replicate schizophrenia in animals in order to test human treatments. High doses often prove fatal because personal limitations and rationale are not of much concern to those high on PCP. The person can become very unpredictable.(i.e., Jumping from buildings, drowning, car accidents and other physical mistakes).

Causes of PCP Abuse

There are a multitude of reasons and co-diseases that lead to becoming a victim of PCP addiction.

Brain Chemistry – As we mentioned earlier, one of PCP’s effects on the brain involves accessing the brain’s reward center and releasing access amounts of dopamine. When the brain is flooded with these mood boosting neurons, it makes the user’s sober state feel dull, and thus they are constantly chasing that dopamine hit. Over time the effect diminishes and the user is left chasing a feeling that is no longer accessible to their desensitized mind.

Genetics – Some people have a family history of substance abuse, and their descendants are much more likely to repeat this behavior. In the case of PCP, it’s a hallucinogen and the evidence that supports genetic addiction is lower than those of other drugs, but there is still a correlation between first-degree relatives.


Environmental – External factors in a person’s life is a major trigger for developing addiction. People are prone to prolonged drug use as an escape if they are surrounded with life stressors such as a broken home, abuse, financial hardships, or other negative circumstances. Adolescents may seek refuge from an abusive home, by turning to illicit drug abuse. The pleasurable, numbing effects of PCP often leads to continued use.


Brain Chemical Imbalances – People who suffer from mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, manic depression, borderline, etc. have chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances make brain chemistry very fragile and when a toxic substance like PCP is introduced the results can be very severe. A major characteristic of a lot of mental health conditions is lower levels of dopamine, so when PCP provides a happy state that they would otherwise not be able to attain, it’s hard for the user to justify being sober.

Withdrawal Symptoms

If you decided to quit, or are even considering quitting, you’ve made the first step, and the right step. PCP withdrawal symptoms can be harsh, but the symptoms of continuing to use are much worse.

If you were a regular user, the withdrawal effects will be at their most severe in the immediate weeks after you have stopped. Unfortunately, with PCP the effects tend to linger, as the brain fights to rewire the damage that has been caused. The effects can linger for as much as 3 months to a year. But do not panic, with patience, support, commitment and the right treatment plan, getting better is very possible.

It’s important to note that the withdrawal symptoms of PCP can be very dangerous and extremely scary — it’s highly recommended that you seek professional supervision and/or care.

Here are some common PCP symptoms:

  • Cravings
  • High body temperature – feeling of being hot, accompanied by sweating
  • Chills
  • Seizures
  • Muscle breakdown – includes trouble balancing and poor reflexes
  • Acidosis – excess of acid in the blood
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Twitches
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Violent behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor impulse control
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Suicidal thoughts

Eradicating the drug from system is crucial towards recovery, and minimizing withdrawal symptoms. Going to a drug treatment facility to receive proper detoxification is highly recommended. After detox, a drug treatment facility can help you cope with cravings and establish a baseline for life after drugs.


As a general rule of thumb, the longer one has abused PCP, the longer and more intense the withdrawal symptoms will be, however it varies from case to case. Although the mental symptoms can last for months, fortunately for most, the physical symptoms tend to reside within days to weeks.

Having a professional drug treatment facility on your side will help maintain a smooth progression down the recovery highway — especially when facing the risk of aggressive psychosis. Although there are no approved drugs to treat PCP detoxification, if psychosis occurs within the walls of a patient care facility, they may administer sedatives to prevent harm to oneself and others. PCP induced psychosis can often last up to 6 weeks.

Once someone has made it through all of the harshest and jarring symptoms, even after a year it is still possible to experience a phenomenon called, “anhedonia.” Simply put, some former users are unable to experience joy or happy moods because of the draining of dopamine within the pleasure centers of the brain. Even small things like food, going to the park, or talking to friends can feel menial and boring. In some severe cases this lethargic feeling may last forever, but for others it may just take time for the brain to readjust it’s threshold for happiness.


Supervision is highly recommended, as it can be very challenging to take on withdrawal symptoms alone. The medical staff at drug treatment centers are trained to look out for signs of relapse. Even headaches or anxiety can drive people to give up just to ease the pain, but a good care center will provide the support, limitations and environment needed to recover. They can also help you isolate and treat your symptoms. For instance, if depression is persisting in a patient for an extended period, they may provide a patient with antidepressant drugs. This helps patients maintain a good mood and a positive outlook on recovery.

Types of Treatment Centers

There are many options for kicking a drug habit, from drop in visits to intensive round the clock care. Selecting the right one all depends on the severity of each case. A primary care physician or family doctor can help provide treatment info and determine the best course of action.

Regardless of which type of treatment a patient chooses, there will be some element of counseling. It helps people rationalize their behavior, and change their associations with the drug by focusing on positive lifestyles and attitudes.

Here are some common types of treatment:

Outpatient therapy – Typically recommend for less severe users, it allows the individual to reside at home and visit the treatment location on their own. Treatments often include individual or group counseling.

Inpatient therapy – Recommend for heavy users, this requires the patient to check in to an intensive program in a medical environment. 24-hour supervision and care is provided with an emphasis on support.

12-step program – This is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, where a regularly meeting group of people who battle similar addictions can create a positive dialogue with one another. It helps patients feel like they’re not alone by building community ties and supporting positive changes together.

Treatment steps

Most treatment options will include some variety of the following steps to recovery:

Behavioral counseling – one on one or in a group, a counselor will usually use behavior altering therapies such as contingency management, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. The goal is to avoid triggers, identify underlying causes and adjust behavior that leads to abuse. It will teach the abuser how to cope with life — how to handle stress without turning to drugs, or how to say no and avoid trigger people.

Dual diagnosis – Prolonged PCP addiction is sometimes because of a secondary condition or may create a secondary condition. Properly evaluating these underlying conditions is important for a properly tailored treatment plan.

Medication assistance – Many people suffer from medical complications as a byproduct of their PCP use. Socialized medical treatments may be necessary to treat these underlying or co-occurring conditions.

Long-term follow up and aftercare – Following the initial treatment many drug abusers get clean and go right back to using, so most facilities will help establish behaviors and guidelines for continuing the battle against addiction in their post-treatment life.

Wrapping up

Withdrawal for any drug is challenging, and it’s not different for PCP. But being educated on what to expect will give you the best chance for success. As a patient you will be one step ahead of the drug, and the symptoms won’t come as a such a shock. Being able to recognize severe symptoms will let you know when it’s time seek out more intensive treatments before things get worse or end up in a PCP overdose.

As with most medical conditions, the most important thing is being able to identify the underlying problem. In the case of addiction, a properly trained care physician can work with you to help identify this underlying problem and also recommend the strongest treatment solution. Our Orange County rehab center offers the professional help you need.

At Luminance Recovery, we are here to help you overcome even the strongest addictions. Contact us today if you are suffering from a PCP addiction.

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