Taking a drug intravenously means putting a substance into a needle, plunging that needle into the body, and releasing that drug into the bloodstream. Almost any drug could be used in this way, including heroin, crack cocaine, and even prescription painkillers.

Many who use drugs consider the dangerous high from IV drug use to be the most intense. That’s because this method often allows all of the drug’s power to hit the brain at once, rather than being diluted and delayed by internal organs like the lungs or stomach. Unfortunately, this method of drug abuse also comes with some dangerous side effects, including infections.

Common Injectable Problems

Young woman with heroin needlePeople who abuse drugs with a needle often do so in an unsterile environment. They may not clean the surface of the skin before they inject drugs, and the drugs they inject might be filled with all sorts of bacteria. Often, illegal drugs are mixed in unsanitary conditions and may have chemical additives.

Not surprisingly, infections at the site of the injection are incredibly common. In fact, experts suggest that standard soft-tissue infections are the most common cause of hospital admissions among IV drug users.1This may result in abscesses, wounds that won’t heal, or more serious infections.

Infections like this can be quite serious, as they can rage beneath the skin and cause swelling, pain and tissue death. Thankfully, they can often be successfully treated with oral antibiotics and procedures that remove dead tissue. People might emerge from these episodes with scars, but they might be able to retain their health.

Basic bacterial infections aren’t the only type of problem that people who use IV drugs might face. There are a number of infections that can slip from one body to another with a needle, including:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Tetanus

In some cases, people obtain these infections because they share needles with others, and those sharing partners have an infection. However, some people get these infections due to the way in which they behave while they’re high. Up to 27 percent of young drug users were likely to share needles, but of those IV drug users, 59 percent reported having more than two sexual partners in six months.2 These users may have obtained infections through their sexual practices, as well as their use of needles.

Illnesses like HIV, tetanus, and hepatitis are harder to treat than simple bacterial infections. Sometimes treatments can help to stem the tide of the disease, but sometimes these illnesses remain within the person’s body for life, and if that person continues to share needles, others could become infected.

“Over time and with years of addiction and drug dealing came the realization that if I didn’t make a change in my life, I would wind up being a full-fledged junkie. I was snorting the diluted heroin, and I had begun using it intravenously…Not many will be able to walk away like I did, but if I can do it, others can too. Now that it has been over 35 years since that day I walked away, I believe anyone can walk away from anything they wish to in life.” —Alvin W., HeroesInRecovery.com

Treating an Addiction

Diseases and infections caused by injecting drugs can be serious, and these conditions tend to get worse if they’re neglected for long periods of time. The power of addiction may deter many people from seeking help for an infection or illness. Unfortunately, it’s hard for IV drug users to get the right kind of medical help they need without also having to facethe underlying addiction. Once an addiction is in place, getting and using drugs becomes the only thing that matters. Treatment can help to break that pattern.

At Black Bear Lodge, we can help. Our experienced and caring clinicians can help the person you love understand why sobriety is so important, and our treatments can help bring lasting wellness to life. Please call us to learn more about individualized addiction treatment for yourself or someone you love.


Ebright J., Pieper B. Skin and Soft Tissue Infections in Injection Drug Users. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America. Sep 2002. 16(3):697-712. Retrieved 28 Jul 2017.

2 Seal, Karen H et al. Risk of Hepatitis B Infection among Young Injection Drug Users in San Francisco: Opportunities for Intervention. Western Journal of Medicine 172.1 (2000): 16–20. Retrieved 28 Jul 2017.