Intravenous Drug Abuse Explained Part 1

Substance abuse and hypodermic needles combine to create what many consider to be the most dangerous and high-risk type of drug use behavior. The effects of administering an illicit substance intravenously are extremely powerful and therefore pose a much higher risk of addiction than other drug use methods like ingestion or inhalation. Once addiction sets in even more high-risk behaviors are engaged in as addicts struggle to fund and procure illegal substances and needles to inject them with. Understanding the dangers of addiction and needle use is critical to getting the right help at the right time.

Hypodermic needles are used by both addicts and recreational drug users to deliver illicit chemicals directly into the bloodstream. When administered in this manner the drug will pass the blood-brain barrier much more rapidly than other consumption methods. This generally results in a more powerful and fast-acting state of euphoria which is subsequently attributed to the rapid development of dependence and addiction.

Needles are generally only designed for one-time use, but many addicts reuse them repeatedly. With each new use the needle will become duller and result in more damage to the skin. With regular use an addict can quickly run out of new areas of the body to inject in and will often develop track marks, sores, open wounds and infections. In fact, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated;

“Skin and soft tissue bacterial infections are a common complication of intravenous drug use. This high rate is due to:

  • Injection of drugs into the fatty layer under the skin (skin popping)
  • Leakage of drugs out of veins during the injection (extravasation)
  • Tissue death (necrosis) due to toxic materials in drugs
  • Increased numbers of bacteria on the skin surface.” (1)

However, there’s a great deal more at stake when it comes to intravenous drug use than just skin complications.

The most commonly injected illicit drugs are also the most dangerous and include heroin, morphine and cocaine. Other drugs that were never intended for intravenous use are also often converted to administer via injection. This includes prescription pills, alcohol and even bath salts. But regardless of the type of drug used, intravenous drug users place themselves in grave danger because needle sharing and improper administration techniques can be extremely harmful and in some cases deadly.

Unfortunately, the drugs used by intravenous substance abusers also carry the most severe criminal penalties. Many people feel there is a serious disparity in these criminal consequences because the vast majority of IDUs are minority and ethnic groups. Recently new legislation has passed that eases the penalty for hard drugs like crack in favor of treatment for addiction, but in many cases addicts that are convicted of drug crimes won’t have access to these programs. As a result a significant number of these people are doomed to repeated relapses after serving their sentences.

In part 2 of this article series we’ll discuss the most threatening specific health risks associated with intravenous drug use. However, if you or someone you love is in serious danger as a result of drug abuse and you need help right now, call the number at the top of your screen for an immediate confidential consultation. The call is free, but the cost of NOT calling is potentially very high. Don’t wait a moment longer – pick up the phone now.

(1) New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated Skin Infections in IV Drug Users

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Recovery First is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is easily accessible from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Our small groups means you get more one-on-one support and make stronger connections with the community. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Florida's Atlantic coast or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.