Intravenous (IV) drugs are those injected directly into the body. While you might think that you will see track marks on a friend’s or loved one’s arm, many people are able to hide the marks connected to substance abuse. They inject the skin between the toes and in other areas of the body that you can’t see. Some of the drugs used in this way include heroin and crystal meth. If someone you love uses one of these drugs, you need to know the signs of shooting up and the dangers of addiction.
First Sign of Substance Abuse: Highs and Lows
A common sign that someone you know uses IV drugs is when that person experiences frequent highs and lows. You can think of this in the same you would the crash associated with caffeine or sugar. When you drink several cups of coffee or bottles of soda a day, the sugar and caffeine can leave you feeling wiry and jittery. Once those substances leave your system, though, you’ll feel a crushing sensation that might make you feel tired and worn out.
People who use IV drugs feel and act the same way through highs and lows. Some prefer injecting drugs to smoking or snorting substances because injecting produces a faster reaction. As the drugs go directly into the bloodstream, users feel the high much faster. The injection method can also produce a faster crash period because as the drugs leave, their pleasurable symptoms dissipate quickly too. Some of the signs you might notice during the crash period, also known as the cooling period, include:
- Trouble concentrating or thinking
- Issues with making decisions
- Head nodding
- Falling asleep in any spot or position
- Irritability and mood swings
Physical Symptoms of IV Drug Use
Unless you have given yourself an injection before, you may have no idea what an injection site looks like. IV drug users can inject heroin and other drugs into different areas of the bodies, including the crook of an elbow, the sole of a foot, the vein that runs along the arm, and even in the leg or between the toes.
Signs of an Injection Site
An injection site will typically have a small bruise that changes color over time. You may also see track marks in people who regularly use IV drugs. These marks will look like dark veins along the arm. You may see a darker area around the site of the injection and then more lightly colored marks moving down the arm.
Another physical sign of intravenous drug use is one or more collapsed veins. The veins of the human body transport blood from one area to the next to keep the body healthy. If an individual keeps injecting substances into the same vein, that vein may eventually collapse and stop doing its necessary function of transporting blood. Though a collapsed vein is hard to see because it sits below the surface of the skin, a close look at the area should help you find it.
If you do not properly care for an injury, it can become infected. This is especially true in cases of ongoing IV drug use. As the same injection spot is used repeatedly, physical damage to the skin and veins occurs. Something as simple as wearing the same shirt or pants for several days in a row can cause an infection. The fabric rubbing against the skin and the bacteria on that fabric can also worsen the infection. Infections are also more likely to occur due to decreased personal hygiene like not showering or bathing regularly.
In addition to skin infections, IV drug use may also result in skin popping, but this only occurs among those who inject drugs into their muscles rather than their veins. Injections into the muscles cause lumps to form in the tissue beneath the skin. Those lumps will build up as scar tissue builds. The condition makes the lumps appear to pop or to puff out the skin. You can sometimes see these lumps on the arms and legs of IV drug users.
You might notice soot beneath the skin too. Officially called a soot tattoo, the discoloration occurs because a flame is place below the needle before injecting in order to cleanse the needle before putting it in their skin. The soot that forms on the needle goes directly into the body and can leave behind a dark mark that becomes even darker over time. Some people get professional or amateur tattoos done as a way to hide those marks.
Other Possible Signs of IV Drug Use
It’s important that you consider all the other possible signs of addiction to meth or another IV drug. Those who use IV drugs will often wear clothing designed to hide infection sites.
During the summer months, many people look forward to wearing tank tops and shorts to beat the heat. Those with an IV drug use issue frequently do not wear the same clothing because they risk showing signs addiction. They might wear long pants that reach down to their ankles and shirts with long sleeves that cover their arms even in the middle of a hot day.
Sudden Weight Loss
Sudden and quick weight loss is another sign of IV drug use. Drugs such as meth and heroin provide more energy than normal, resulting in staying up for hours and even days at a time during a binge. The extra energy received from the drugs burns calories resulting in losing a significant amount of weight. You might find that a close friend or family member suddenly lost a large amount of weight within a few months. Sometimes the weight loss can result in people looking like skin and bones and/or have heads that appear too large for their bodies.
Another sign to look for is a change in appetite, which often goes along with a change in sleep patterns. Drugs can cause major changes in the way they eat and drink as well as sleep. They may only want to watch television or spend time with other people who also use. Addiction can also result in spending long hours awake and alert.
What Drugs Are Injected?
Although meth and heroin are among the more commonly abused injected drugs, they are far from the only ones. Some use cocaine in the form of crack cocaine or morphine. Some people also mix heroin with cocaine to make a substance called a speedball. Some of the other drugs taken intravenously include:
- Bath salts
- Prescription drugs
Those who take prescription drugs intravenously often do so because they want to feel the full effects of the drug as quickly as possible. In the same way that doctors often recommend that patients take a prescription painkiller before they experience any pain because it can take up to an hour or more for the effects to kick in, shooting up the drug helps it kick in quickly and provides both pain reduction and a euphoric feeling.
Oxycodone, including both the name brand and the generic, is a common IV drug. Some also use ADHD medications as an injection, including Ritalin.
Some of the common signs of drug use include a loss of interest in activities and hobbies, a change in personality, constant thoughts of using and abusing drugs, and physical changes. When IV drug use occurs, you might notice that the eyes appear sunken and that bones show through the skin. It’s often hard to admit that there is a problem. Recognizing that an addiction is present is the first step on the road to recovery.
More than 13 million people around the world use and abuse IV drugs and a large portion engages in something called a drug binge. A binge can last anywhere from a few days to a week. During drug binges, it’s common to stay awake the entire time. While some like to sit down and watch television or movies during a binge, others prefer to be physically active and to do things around the house. Some prefer to be alone and locked in their homes or apartments, and others like being around people.
During a drug binge, you may not see your loved one or have any way to reach that person. He or she may stop answering the phone and may ignore anyone who knocks on the door. You may worry so much that you call the police and ask them to perform a wellness check. The highs that occur during a drug binge can make a close friend seem like an entirely different person. A person binging can act in manic ways and have a hard time listening.
Health Risks and Dangers
Those who engage in IV drug use have an increased risk of developing other conditions later. A large number of people who use IV drugs end up with an HIV diagnosis because of dirty needles. While in the middle of a drug binge, people often are willing to do anything to get a fix and are more willing to take risks.
A dirty needle is one that is shared by two or more people. If someone infected with HIV uses a needle and then an uninfected person uses that same needle, that uninfected individual can contract the disease.
Anyone who uses drugs intravenously also has an increased risk of developing other conditions and diseases. One danger is that the drugs can cause memory problems. In fact, drugs can impact a person’s short-term and long-term memories. They may cause issues with a person remembering simple things, such as when to pick a child up from school or when to go to the grocery store. Long-term memory problems can make the individual forget the names of close friends.
In addition to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, there is also a chance that IV drug use spreads other diseases as well. There are clean needle exchanges available for anyone who uses IV drugs. This is to ensure that clean or new needles are being used to avoid infections.
What to Do if Someone is Shooting Up
If you worry that someone you love has an addiction to an IV drug such as heroin or meth, you should look for the physical signs of addiction. You may want to look around the house for other signs as well. They may have hidden paraphernalia around the house, including the small plastic bags and glass vials that once held the drugs. You may find dirty needles or the orange caps that sit on the ends of the needles around the house.
When it comes time to help a loved one, you may want to stage an intervention with other family members and friends. You can all talk about addiction and how it has impacted your lives. A treatment center can help too. Both inpatient and outpatient programs offer plans that include helping with detox and taking the first steps toward recovery. If you want to help a loved one struggling with a IV drug addiction, talking to a treatment center is your best course of action