Flakka Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides flakka addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Flakka Addiction

Learn about flakka and substance abuse

Flakka, which is also sometimes referred to as gravel, is the street name of the synthetic drug alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (which is often shortened to alpha-PVP a-PVP). Alpha-PVP was first synthesized in the 1960s, but it was not until early 2015 that the drug received widespread notice following a spate of news reports involving individuals who engaged in bizarre and highly erratic behaviors after ingesting the substance. The drug is in the cathinone class, a category of drugs that share chemical similarities with amphetamines.

Flakka is similar to bath salts, another recently popularized synthetic cathinone that prompted aggressive and unpredictable behavior. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), flakka usually appears as a white or pink crystal that is most commonly ingested by being eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized and inhaled. The drug’s effects include hyperstimulation, paranoia, violent delusions, and intense delirium. Depending on the amount and potency of flakka that a person ingests, the drug’s effects may dissipate within three to four hours or may last as long as a few days.

Though researchers have not yet identified all of the dangers that are posed by flakka abuse, a recent study by The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) indicates that the drug is highly addictive, with one researcher comparing flakka’s addictive properties to those of methamphetamine. While most currently available information addresses the immediate impact of flakka abuse, studies such as this emphasize that the potential for developing a flakka use disorder is a dangerous reality.


Flakka addiction statistics

According to statistics collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the state of Florida has been the epicenter of the recent boom in flakka abuse. Florida’s Broward County led the nation with 477 cases of flakka confiscation in 2014. Between September 2014 and May 2015, Broward County also recorded 16 flakka-related deaths. The county’s population-adjusted rate of 27 flakka cases per 100,000 residents was also higher than the rate in any other county in the United States. Cook County, Illinois, placed a distant second, with a total of 212 cases. Miami-Dade County, Orange County, and Palm Beach County, all of which are also in Florida, placed third, fourth, and fifth in total number of flakka cases. Indicating the speed with which flakka abuse can spread, in 2011, the entire state of Florida only registered one flakka-related case.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors of flakka addiction

The following are among the many factors that may influence whether or not a person will engage in flakka abuse, and whether or not that abuse will lead to chemical dependence, or flakka use disorder:

Environmental: Easy availability of flakka and peer abuse of this substance are strong environmental influences on an individual’s decision to engage in flakka abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Access to flakka
  • Childhood maltreatment or trauma
  • Early evidence of diminished self-control and behavioral disinhibition
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • Personal or family history of conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of flakka addiction

The impact of flakka abuse may vary widely depending upon the amount and quality of the drug that a person consumes. The following are among the more common signs and symptoms that indicate a person may have abused flakka:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Bizarre and unpredictable behaviors
  • Aggression and other violent outbursts
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Loss of inhibition

Physical symptoms:

  • Dramatically elevated body temperature
  • Muscle fiber breakdown
  • Increased strength
  • Rapid heartbeat

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Enhanced alertness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of awareness of surroundings
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Excited delirium

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability


Effects of flakka addiction

Limited research has been conducted on flakka abuse, but a variety of negative effects have already been identified, such as the following:

  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypertension
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Internal bleeding
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple organ failure
  • Physical harm resulting from violent outbursts
  • Legal problems, including incarceration
  • Family discord
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Impaired performance in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Flakka addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who develop flakka use disorder may be at an increased risk for experiencing several additional mental health disorders, such as the following:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Conduct disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of flakka withdrawal & overdose

Anyone who experiences the following effects after ingesting flakka may have overdosed, which means that they may be in grave danger and thus in need of immediate medical attention:

  • Spike in body temperature
  • Erratic or bizarre behaviors
  • Violent outbursts
  • Hallucinations
  • Internal bleeding
  • Organ failure

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
Marks of Quality Care
These accreditations are an official recognition of our dedication to providing treatment that exceeds the standards and best practices of quality care.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)