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5 Signs of Intravenous (IV) Drug Use

People who abuse drugs intravenously experience unique difficulties and a higher level of shame surrounding their substance abuse. The stigma surrounding IV drug use and the significant health risks associated make professional treatment a necessary measure. Unfortunately, the stigma and shame mentioned cause individuals who abuse IV drugs to hide their substance abuse from their loved ones at a more intense level than other forms of substance use.

If you suspect that your loved one is abusing IV drugs, you must be aware of the signs of shooting up substances. Some of the signs include physical evidence of IV drug use like track marks, infections, and damage to the veins. Other signs may include behaviors that indicate your loved one is intravenously injecting drugs.

What are the Signs of IV Drug Use?

Intravenous (IV) drugs are substances that are injected into the body. The most common IV drugs include heroin, other opioids, and methamphetamine. These drugs are highly potent and can cause an array of health complications, which are amplified when you inject the substances.

While you may think that identifying IV drug use is easy due to the track marks that are left behind, people who use these drugs are experts in hiding the evidence. Because of this, it is important to be aware of all of the signs that someone is shooting up.

The 5 most common signs of IV drug use include:

1. Track Marks

Being able to identify track marks is one of the easiest ways you can identify IV drug use. Track marks can be dangerous and potentially cause physical harm to the body.

Track marks are scars that result from using a needle to inject drugs into the body. The appearance of the scars depends on several factors, including:

  • How often the drugs are injected
  • How recently the drugs were injected
  • The sensitivity of your loved one’s skin
  • The presence of underlying health conditions

If your loved one is a new IV drug user, they may have small holes from the needle, scabs, and some bruising. This is because their body has more time to heal if they are not shooting up every day.

As IV drug use progresses, your loved one may have dried and cracked skin that appears infected. Additionally, it is important to note that repeated injections to the same vein will cause them to darken and raise, making your loved one’s track marks more noticeable.

2. Drug Paraphernalia

When your loved one is abusing IV drugs, they will need certain equipment. The equipment someone uses to abuse substances is known as “drug paraphernalia”. Finding paraphernalia in your loved one’s room that is associated with IV drug use is the easiest way to tell that they are abusing IV drugs.

Paraphernalia associated with shooting up may include:

  • Alcohol swabs to sterilize the injection site
  • Materials to filter the liquidized drug through (cigarette filters or cotton swabs)
  • Hard surfaces with the powdery residue to crush and cut pills
  • Razor blades for cutting and crushing pills
  • A spoon or soda can for cooking the liquified drug (may appear burnt)
  • An acidic agent like lemon juice or citric acid to help dissolve certain drugs
  • Lighters used to heat the drugs
  • A tourniquet like a belt or rubber tubing to tie off the site of injection
  • A bin that contains used needles

3. Skin Infections, Vein Damage, and “Soot Tattoos”

If your loved one is abusing IV drugs, they may suffer from skin infections, damage to their veins and something referred to as “soot tattoos.”

Skin infections result from repeated damage to the skin and poor wound care. Their track marks may appear red, inflamed, or have green-colored pus around the injection site if it is infected.

If your loved one is repeatedly injecting drugs into the same vein, they may experience collapsed veins, meaning the vein is no longer able to transport blood. Another form of vein damage is a blown vein which occurs when a needle fully punctures a vein, causing heavy bruising.

Lastly, you might notice soot beneath the skin. This is known as a “soot tattoo” and is caused by a burned needle being injected into the skin. People heat their needles to clean them, however, this can cause soot to gather underneath the skin.

4. Wearing Long Sleeves

Have you noticed that your loved one is wearing long sleeves or long pants when it isn’t cold outside? They could be attempting to cover their track marks, blown-out veins, infections, and other visual signs of IV drug use. If they are constantly wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather, it could be because they are afraid that their IV drug use will be identified by you or someone else.

5. Sudden Weight Loss

Sudden and quick weight loss is another sign that someone is shooting up or addicted to drugs. When your loved one becomes addicted to drugs, all other desires take the back burner. This means that eating food may not become a priority for them anymore.

Additionally, if your loved one is abusing stimulant drugs like methamphetamine they may completely lose their appetite. When they are injecting the drug, side effects such as the suppression of appetite are intensified as this method of drug abuse makes the substance more potent.

Finding Help for IV Drug Abuse and Addiction

If you believe that your loved one is abusing IV drugs, it’s time to get them help. Intravenous drug use can lead to an array of health complications, including the development of infectious diseases and severe or life-threatening infections. The only way to prevent these complications is to stop using drugs.

South Carolina Addiction Treatment is a state-licensed and CARF (commission on accreditation of rehabilitation facilities) accredited substance abuse treatment facility offering individualized, extended-term treatment in an intimate setting located in Greenville / Simpsonville, SC. Each client enrolled in our program will receive individual attention from a therapist and psychiatrist as well as gain exposure to a multitude of traditional and alternative therapies so they can truly embrace recovery.

Don’t wait any longer for the help you deserve. Contact us today to start your recovery.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070054/
  2. https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-020-00399-8
  3. https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-022-00624-6

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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