Injecting Drugs: The Side Effects And Dangers

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

Drugs can be abused in a variety of ways. While some people choose to take drugs orally, others choose to snort, smoke, or inject them.

The practice of injecting drugs into the bloodstream with a needle, also known as “shooting up,” is incredibly dangerous, and it can affect both the brain and body in a wide variety of ways—both in the short-term and long-term.

What Is Intravenous Drug Use?

Intravenous (IV) drug use refers to injecting a substance into the vein using a syringe. This method produces rapid and heightened effects because it bypasses the process of first-pass metabolism in the liver, and the first effects of the drug are usually felt within five to 10 seconds after injection. This shorter, more intense high can lead to a dependency, both physical and psychological, developing more quickly than with other methods of using drugs.

Although most individuals inject drugs intravenously, they may switch to injecting into a muscle (intramuscular) once an overused vein collapses. Another common method is to inject the drug just below the skin’s surface, which is known as skin popping.

Commonly Injected Drugs

There are very few drugs that can’t be injected, but some of the most commonly injected drugs include:

  • Heroin.
  • Cocaine.
  • Amphetamines.
  • Buprenorphine.
  • Benzodiazepines.
  • Barbituates.
  • Methamphetamine.
  • Opioid painkillers.
  • Other prescription medications.

The Dangers of Injecting Drugs

Short-Term Health Risks

Some of the immediate, short-term health risks associated with injecting drugs intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously include:

  • Inflamed and/or collapsed veins.
  • Puncture marks or track lines.
  • Skin infections, including abscesses, cellulitis, and necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Bacteria on the cardiac valves, endocarditis, and other cardiovascular infections.
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs due to poor blood flow.

It’s important to note that while the above are the general health risks of injecting drugs, there are additional dangers associated with individual drugs.

For example, black tar heroin, which is named for its tar-like consistency, contains a lot of additives and contaminants. These contaminants can cause local inflammation, clog blood vessels, and contribute to damage of the liver, kidney, lungs, and brain.

Additionally, because repeatedly injecting drugs into the vein can cause a vein to collapse, many people switch to injecting intramuscularly. The increase in intramuscular injection can lead to the following health risks:

  • Necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Wound botulism.
  • Gas gangrene.
  • Tetanus.

Long-Term Health Risks

People who use drugs intravenously for an extended period of time are at risk of developing a multitude of health problems that are associated with continued and persistent use. While each drug has its own set of associated long-term health risks, some examples of potential consequences include:

  • AIDS (as a result of HIV).
  • Malnourishment.
  • Severe weight loss.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Psychosis.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Seizures.
  • Convulsions.
  • Coma.
  • Increased risk of suicide.
  • Chronic hepatitis that leads to liver cancer or cirrhosis.
  • The decay of white matter in the brain, which negatively impacts behavioral regulation and decision-making.

Needle Sharing

Many people who suffer from a substance use disorder don’t take the proper safety precautions when injecting drugs because their only focus is getting high. In turn, they often share needles, which can lead to an exchange of bodily fluids and subsequent infectious diseases. People who share needles are at risk of contracting:

  • Hepatitis B and C.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Tetanus.
  • Cellulitis.
  • Thrombophlebitis.
  • Necrotizing Fasciitis.
  • Other blood-borne bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.

To decrease the spread of diseases, needle exchange programs have been formed around the country. These programs provide people who use drugs intravenously with free sterile syringes, and they collect contaminated needles to prevent disease transmission to others. Many of these programs often distribute alcohol pads and condoms.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who inject drugs have a higher risk of death than non-injection users, and this is largely due to overdose and HIV/AIDS-related mortality.

Any time a person uses drugs for an extended period of time, the chance of an overdose increases, but it’s even more likely to occur when a person injects drugs. Injecting delivers a dose of the drug directly into the bloodstream, and it’s often difficult for a person to determine the “right” amount of drug to inject to get the desired effect. In turn, many IV drug users take in more drugs than their body can handle at once, which leads to an overdose.

Additionally, many drugs are cut with other additives or agents, which can cause a dangerous interaction in the body when injected and may lead to an overdose.

If you suspect someone has overdosed after injecting drugs, it’s critical that you seek medical attention immediately by calling 911.

Take The Next Step Toward Recovery

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know is injecting drugs or struggling with a substance use disorder, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone and help is available.

At Orlando Recovery Center, we offer a variety of treatment programs to help you overcome your addiction, and we’re dedicated to helping you move forward from the past so you can enjoy a happier future. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how our team can help you on your journey to recovery.


Baciewicz, G. J., MD. (2016, March 31). Injecting Drug Use. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

Crane, M. (n.d.). Dangers of Shooting Up. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse: Intertwined Epidemics. (2012, May). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

Sharing Needles To Inject Drugs And HIV. (2016, January 25). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

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