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Understanding the Health Risks of IV Drug Use

by | Published on Mar 19, 2020 | Drug Addiction

Health Risk of IV Drug Use

Unfortunately, once people start abusing prescription medication or illegal drugs, they often move to IV drug use. However, when it comes to the health risks of IV drug use are by far some of the most dangerous ones. Injecting a drug causes it to enter the bloodstream and brain instantly. Thus, causing the high or “rush,” because the drug impacts the user immediately. These same factors are what cause such severe health consequences. 

Immediate and Short-term Health Concerns

Just as people experience severe immediate health effects after excessive alcohol consumption, the same happens for drug abuse. Of course, the most serious health concern involved overdose. In 2017, over 17,000 people died from an overdose of prescription overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Even more lost their life to intravenous drug abuse such as heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. 

In addition to these physical health concerns, these drugs cause altered states of perception, disturbing visual and auditory hallucinations, and other psychological effects. It’s common for someone under the influence to suffer an accident, commit violent or criminal acts, and other consequences that are not directly linked to health. 

Not to mention, IV drug use has a high risk of physiological and mental dependence. When addicts try to stop using these substances they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. It’s common for them to struggle with anxiety, agitation, illness, and discomfort, which prompts them to continue their abuse and potentially suffer an overdose. 

Long-term Health Risks of IV Drug Use

Long-term health risks of IV drug use aren’t as straightforward as the immediate risks. Especially long-term drug users as the health consequences can vary tremendously. Most patients with a substance use disorder suffered from common health conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic pain
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Pneumonia
  • Stroke
  • Elevated risk of early death

In addition to a higher risk of acute disease, long-term health consequences of IV drug use include contraction and spreading STDs and other infectious diseases. For example, HIV and hepatitis are common diseases that spread among intravenous drug users. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), intravenous drug users accounted for 9% of all HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016. Other studies suggest that around 36% of cumulative AIDS cases in the US are also the result of IV drug use. 

Skin infections are also a long-tern health consequence among IV drug users. Most of the time they struggle with skin abscesses or skin infections. Chronic users can also struggle with the so-called “track marks” or vascular scarring, which is a permanent side effect of needle drug abuse and can be quite dangerous. Sharing needles also make them more prone to bacterial infections of the skin.

Long-term effects will also vary according to the different drugs being abused. For example, central nervous system depressants such as heroin can decrease blood pressure and heart rate, producing lasting damage to respiratory and cardiovascular organs. All of these symptoms don’t even come close to the psychological toll substance abuse can have. Depression, aggression, paranoia, and impaired cognition are some of the long-term effects of substance abuse. 

The Dangers of Addiction and Overdose

Of course, the most significant health risk of IV drug use is an overdose. It takes anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds for IV drugs to produce their effects, making intravenous drug users more likely to overdose. Besides, most intravenous drugs are cit with other agents and additives, which can create dangerous interactions in the body when crushed or dissolved to be injected.

Overdose symptoms vary depending on the type and amount of drug taken, but most of the time, injection drug users will experience:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Convulsions
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Violence
  • Paranoia
  • Death

Drug overdose is one of the leading causes of injury death in the United States, killing on average 120 people per day. 

Substance Abuse Treatment Options

Effectively preventing and treating addiction means being aware of the grave, unique challenges IV drug users face. Being aware of these risks can help us to move forward into solutions for everyone impacted by addiction. Treatment for addiction, including any medical impacts of drug use, is the only way to prevent the most severe consequences. For people who inject drugs, treatment should include medical care and monitoring, as they all have an increased risk of struggling with related health problems.

Harm-Reduction Programs

In a nutshell, harm reduction, also known as harm minimization, is a public health policy that helps reduce the negative social and physical consequences that link with addiction. Needle exchange programs are probably the most recognized form of harm reduction. Generally, these are places where an addict can go and trade dirty syringes for clean ones. 

Typically, these exchanges provide access to unused syringes and properly dispose of used syringes. As a result, they reduce the harm of sharing needles. Additionally, they lower the risks of an unlucky person sticking themselves with an improperly discarded needle. Advocates say this reduces the spread of blood-borne diseases.

Medical Detox Programs

Most intravenous drug abusers often struggle with various substances. When they try to quit on their own, they’re likely to experience potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. To ensure someone withdraws from a substance safely, medical detox programs monitor the process and often use medication-assisted treatment to ensure a comfortable and stable detoxing. Those who enroll in medical detox programs are less likely to experience an instant relapse, thus improving their chances of long-term recovery. 

Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab Programs

Of course, detox isn’t the only step for drug addiction recovery. Most intravenous drug users will likely start their recovery journey through an inpatient rehab program. Here, they’ll receive the structure, guidance, and support they need to move away from substance abuse and start looking into sobriety. 

Once they complete an inpatient program, they’re likely to continue their recovery journey through an intensive outpatient program or an outpatient program setting. These types of programs offer some structure but maintain some flexibility to allow patients to return to their daily responsibilities, such as work, family, and school. 

Drug Rehab Aftercare Programs

Similar to most addictions, it’s common for recovering intravenous drug addicts to go back to an unhealthy environment after rehab. Most will still have friends that remain being drug users and that increases their chances of relapse. Aftercare programs help those in recovery maintain their structure, continue to work on learning coping and trigger-controlling skills, and more. These programs can provide a unique opportunity to help users maintain their long-term sobriety.

Finding Help for Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or substance use disorders, don’t hesitate to seek help and call 1-866-326-4317 today. Through our drug rehab programs that comprise inpatient and outpatient treatment plans, we can help you find the right path towards recovery.

Treatment is more available than you think. Reach out today and speak with an addiction therapist who can help you find the right treatment plan. You could be one phone call away from saving your life or the life of a loved one.

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we’re committed to helping people receive the treatment they need. Our team wants everyone to know that recovery is possible. No matter how you feel right now, we promise there’s hope in your future. We’ll walk the path of healing with you and be there to offer the support you need.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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