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Intravenous Drug Abuse Explained Part 2

In Intravenous Drug Abuse Explained Part 1 we discussed some of the traits and practices of intravenous drug users (also referred to simply as IDU) and a number of related consequences. These include severe and obvious signs of injection sites, rapid onset of dependence and addiction, and severe criminal penalties that can result if caught with the drugs commonly injected by addicts; heroin, cocaine, crack and morphine, among others. However, despite the seriousness of these penalties, intravenous drug users expose themselves to even more severe and life-threatening risks every time they inject a drug. Because these risks can quickly result in fatal complications, understanding the life-and-limb consequences of intravenous drug use is critical in order to save those who cannot save themselves.


Intravenous drug users prefer to inject their substances of choice for the same reasons that make these drugs especially dangerous. First, when a chemical is introduced directly to the blood stream it is not degraded by first-pass metabolism. Other drugs are broken down in the stomach before absorption or lose potency through degradation via burning (smoking) or insufflation (inhaling or sniffing). Injected drugs bypass these filters and impact the body immediately, producing a more pronounced state of euphoria in far less time.

Secondly, intravenous administration of drugs allows chemical substances to pass the blood-brain barrier much more rapidly than other methods of substance abuse. This means that the drugs begin to work on the brain immediately and can cause powerful effects.

These two features of IV drug use combine to create a serious risk of relapse because it is extremely difficult to predict an intravenous dose. Additionally, intravenous administration of drugs does not allow for moderation of a drug – meaning that unlike smoking or sniffing where a user can regulate their doses and only consume what they need, IV use occurs all-at-once. This poses a serious risk of overdose to the user that must be medically remedied immediately. Otherwise, overdoses of this nature are often fatal.

*Hepatitis C

Blood borne illnesses of any type are always a risk when sharing needles or using needles in an unsanitary manner. Hepatitis C (and other versions of the virus) is a dangerous disease of the liver that is directly associated with IDUs. This is a non-curable illness that can come as a shock to many people:

“Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don’t experience any symptoms for years. However, hepatitis C is a chronic illness (which means it doesn’t go away). If you have hepatitis C, you need to be watched carefully by a doctor because it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.” (1)

Unfortunately, not many substance abusers are aware of the threat of Hepatitis C. However, most people are aware of the associations between HIV and intravenous drug use, but addicts regularly ignore these risks.


HIV and AIDS is an epidemic condition among intravenous drug users. The poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions and deteriorating state of health of most IDUs makes them much more susceptible to the disease, and when the sharing of needles is involved the risk suddenly becomes quite deadly:

“Since the epidemic began, injection drug use has directly and indirectly accounted for more than one-third (36%) of AIDS cases in the United States.” (2)

This effect is compounded by the fact that many IDUs engage in risky sexual behaviors – often with non-drug users – that spreads the disease further into the community.

The risk of serious illness, imprisonment and death is a frightening reality for intravenous drug users. If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction and needs help, call the number at the top of your screen for an immediate confidential consultation. The call is free and can be made any time of day. What are you waiting for? Take control of your life back right now.

(1) Family Doctor.ORG Hepatitis C
Accessed 10/20/2011

(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Drug-Associated HIV Transmission Continues in the United States
Accessed 10/20/2011

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