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How to Know if Someone is Shooting Up Drugs

When smoking or snorting substances no longer produces the high drug users seek, many turn to shooting up drugs. IV drug use can produce a faster, stronger high, but with many additional risks. People who inject drugs are more likely to overdose, have health complications, and battle addiction. Being able to identify the signs of IV drug use can help individuals identify whether or not someone they care about is shooting up.

Why Do People Shoot Up?

Many people are scared of needles, and even more people struggle to imagine why someone would risk injecting an unknown substance into their veins. The truth is addiction is a powerful and devastating condition that drives individuals who struggle with it to do unimaginable things. People go to extreme lengths to maintain their addictions. They may steal from family members and friends and engage in other illegal activities.

At the same time, the longer people use drugs, the higher their tolerance becomes. They have to increase the dosage and frequency of their substance intake to please their addiction and keep up with a growing tolerance. One way people cope with developing a tolerance is to change the method of administration they use to do drugs.

It can take the body anywhere from 15-45 minutes to begin feeling the effects of a swallowed pill. When smoked, substances enter the bloodstream and take effect even faster. However, many people start shooting up drugs because IV drug use tends to produce the fastest and strongest effects. By injecting drugs straight into the bloodstream, IV drug users feel the effects within seconds.

What Drugs Are Commonly Injected?

Nearly any drug that people abuse can be injected – just not safely. Many drugs have unknown additives that can cause corrosion in the veins, skin infections, and cardiac problems. Some of the most commonly injected drugs are:

  • Heroin
  • Meth
  • Cocaine
  • Crack cocaine
  • OxyContin

Approximately 50% of heroin users shoot up, compared to 13% of meth users and 3% of cocaine users.[1]

Spotting The Physical Signs of IV Drug Use

It can be difficult to know if someone is shooting up drugs based on their behaviors because different substances produce different effects. However, there are many physical signs of IV drug use that can tell you whether or not someone is injecting drugs.

IV Drug Use Paraphernalia

Certain paraphernalia and other materials are needed to inject substances. People who shoot up may have these items in their homes, vehicles, or tucked away in their personal belongings. Items include:

  • A lighter
  • A spoon, particularly one that is bent at the handle
  • Cotton
  • Syringe
  • Needle

Skin Infections, Collapsed Veins

Every time someone gives themselves an injection, they are causing minor injuries to their skin and veins. And, not caring for these injuries can cause them to become infected. IV drug users may have redness, irritation, or itching at the injection site. They may also develop skin abscesses.

At the same time, repeatedly injecting into the same spot can damage the vein causing it to collapse. Collapsed veins no longer transport blood through the body.[2] These can be difficult to see since they are located under the skin, but a medical professional can detect them.

Skin Popping

Some people inject drugs into their muscles or under their skin rather than into their veins. This is referred to as “skin popping.” Skin popping can lead to the development of lumps or bumps that form in the tissue beneath the skin.[3] These lumps heal and turn into scar tissue that builds up and may appear to pop out of the skin. People who shoot up drugs for several years may have lumps on their arms or legs where they shoot up.

Track Marks on the Arms

The easiest physical sign to spot regarding IV drug use is track marks. Track marks are sores or scars that develop at the injection site as a result of repeated injections. Many IV drug users will wear long-sleeve clothing to hide their track marks.

What Do Track Marks Look Like?

Track marks are usually found on the inner arm of an IV drug user. They lay directly over the vein and can change color depending on how fresh or old they are. While track marks are most commonly found on the forearm or inner elbow, they can be found anywhere people inject substances, such as their fingers, hands, feet, groin, legs, or neck.

Fresh track marks may appear red, raised, and irritated. As they heal, and users continue to inject in the same vein, track marks may begin to extend, covering small areas of the skin over certain veins. They can be anywhere from a few centimeters to a couple of inches in length.

As track marks heal, the redness will fade and they may become a light purple or pink color. They may take on a similar appearance as other healed scars or stretch marks. People who have track marks on their arms are likely shooting up drugs.

Find Addiction Help Today

If you have noticed any of the above-listed signs of IV drug use in your friend or family member, they may be shooting up drugs, struggling with addiction, and in need of drug rehab. The good news is you’ve come to the right place. Here at Mandala Healing Center, we can help your loved one get the medical and clinical care they need to recover and get their life back on track. Contact us today to learn more.