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 users actually hide their marks. They inject the skin between their toes and in other areas of the body that you can’t see. Some of the drugs that addicts can use in this way include heroin and crystal meth. They like the euphoric sensation produced by the drugs and will do anything to capture that feeling again. If someone you love uses one of these drugs, you need to know the signs of shooting up and the dangers that the addiction can pose to that person.
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.
Addicts 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
Unless you have given yourself an injection before, you may have no idea what an injection site looks like. IV drug users can inject their heroin and other drugs into different areas of their bodies, including the crook of an elbow, the sole of a foot, the vein that runs along the arm, and even in the leg. 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 shooting up 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 among IV drug users. As these users keep choosing the same injection spot, they do physical damage to their skin and veins. 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. Users are also prone to infections because they may not shower or bathe regularly.
In addition to skin infections, users may also suffer from their 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 the user places a flame below the needle before injecting the drug. Many do this because they want 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 users get professional or amateur tattoos done as a way to hide those marks.
Other Possible Signs
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 the infection sites.
During the summer months, many people look forward to wearing tank tops and shorts to beat the heat. IV drug users cannot wear the same clothing because they risk showing signs of their addictions. 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. In fact, you’ll often find that an addict wears the same type of clothing all year long.
Sudden and quick weight loss is another sign of IV drug use. Drugs such as meth and heroin provide users with more energy than they would usually have. They can stay up for hours and even days at a time during a drug binge. The extra energy they get from the drugs causes them to burn calories and to lose a significant amount of weight. You might find that a close friend or family member suddenly lose a large amount of weight within a few months. Some of these users look 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. Employed adults know that they need to get to bed at a specific time and wake up in time to get ready for work. Drug addicts care more about using than they do about their jobs or their personal obligations. These drugs can cause major changes in the way they eat and drink as well as sleep. They may only want to use drugs and watch television or spend time with other users. Addiction can also make a user spend long hours awake and alert.
More than 13 million people around the world use and abuse IV drugs. A large portion of those users engages in something called a drug binge. A binge can last anywhere from a few days to a week. During drug binges, users 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 users prefer to be alone and locked in their homes or apartments, and other users 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 to anything you say.
Health Risks and Dangers
Those who engage in IV drug use have an increased risk of developing other conditions later. A large number of addicts receive an HIV diagnosis because they used dirty needles. Those in the middle of a drug binge and those willing to do anything to get a fix are more willing to take risks about who they use with and what they take.
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 users can spread other diseases to each other. There are clean needle exchanges for anyone who uses IV drugs to only have clean or new needles and to avoid such infections.
What Drugs Do Users Inject?
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. Users can 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 provide users with both pain reduction and a euphoric feeling.
Oxycodone, including both the name brand and the generic, is a common IV drug. Addicts can 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 you use IV drugs, you might notice that your eyes appear sunken and that your bones show through your skin. It’s often hard for an addict to admit that he or she has a problem. Users do not want to admit that they have addictions, but this is the first step on the road to recovery.
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 signs that the person is a user. 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 the addict detox and taking the first steps toward recovery. If you want to help an IV drug user, talking to a treatment center is your best course of action