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Side Effects of Injecting Drugs

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 28, 2023

Table of Contents

Injecting drugs impacts your physical, mental, and emotional health. As a result, commonly injected drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and opioids have serious long-term side effects on the human body. Injecting drugs is a very dangerous activity because it can quickly lead to addiction. This can make long-term side effects worse and harder to overcome.


If you want to overcome the addictive cycle of injectable drugs, Renaissance Recovery can provide resources and tools to encourage healthy recovery and drug detox.

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Side Effects of Injecting Drugs on the Brain

The brain naturally releases endorphins that make the human body feel happy and calm. When endorphins are released, our pain is masked. Commonly injected drugs include the same chemical makeup of the body’s natural endorphins. It is the reason many people associate “feeling good” when drinking alcohol or using other addictive substances.

Like our endorphins, when drugs are injected into the body, they attach themselves to opiate receptors in our brains. As a result, the brain is damaged and loses its ability to function normally.

When brain function is impaired, the body will start to experience additional side effects such as:

  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Aggression and erratic behavior

A damaged nervous system may first impact your brain and mental health, but if left untreated will start to cause harm to other parts of the body.

Side Effects of Injecting Drugs on the Body

If you are injecting drugs regularly, the substance’s continued effects on your body will become clearer. As mentioned in the previous section, the nervous system begins to stop functioning properly. When the nervous system starts to weaken, so do your muscles.

Because your muscles are weaker, it becomes harder to walk or even move around. Accomplishing daily tasks such as getting out of bed, cooking, and cleaning will require much effort.

Injecting drugs does not only have an impact on your nervous system but other organs in the body as well. Commonly injected drugs such as heroin can cause a residue buildup in the body’s blood vessels. Consequently, the body’s kidneys, liver, and lungs will become at risk for serious infections. If you are injecting drugs you will need rehab to treat the core cause of addiction so your body can fully recover from both the physical and mental dependency.

Other Common Side Effects of Injecting Drugs

Intravenous or IV drug use affects everyone differently. Even something as small as someone’s state of mind when using drugs can cause very different reactions.

Aside from internal side effects, there are several physical changes the body will experience after frequent drug injections. Many people experience cold sweats, insomnia, extreme weight loss, seizures, and chest pains.

Side effects may also vary based on gender. For women, menstrual cycles can become irregular. For men, common drug use can cause a loss of sex drive. No matter what, however, the side effects will be significant.

Track Marks from Injecting Drugs

One of the primary physical issues that develops with sustained intravenous drug use is the appearance of scabs and bruising around the injection site.

Known as track marks, initial bruising scabs over to leave clusters of visible marks, often prompting those scarred with track marks to wear long sleeves to hide the damage.

If track marks appear as little dark circles, this is indicative of skin-popping (injecting the substance under the skin rather than into a vein).

Heroin is the drug most commonly associated with track marks, although people inject many other substances, including:

  • Meth
  • Cocaine
  • Cocaine and heroin (speedball)
  • Opioids

Most people do not start off injecting drugs, but rather shift to intravenous injection when smoking or snorting the substance no longer delivers an intense enough high as tolerance builds.

What Risks Do Track Marks Pose?

Aside from looking unsightly and acting as a red flag for intravenous drug abuse, track marks also pose some significant health risks.

The dangers of intravenous drug use include:

  • Skin infections: Repeatedly piercing veins, sharing needles, and scar tissue can all lead to skin infections after using drugs intravenously.
  • Blood clots: Chronic heroin use can cause blood clots to form after repeated vein punctures.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis B is a severe liver condition that can arise from sharing needles. It is also possible to contract hepatitis C, a more severe form, in the same way.
  • Scarring: Track marks leave permanent scars. In some cases, scars will heal over a period of years.
  • HIV: Sharing needles leads to a heightened risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS.
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Treatment And Detox for Drugs at Renaissance Recovery

Although injecting drugs has extreme side effects on the body, it can be challenging to experience a drug detox without the help of professionals. A rehab center gives clients access to certified professionals and a variety of addiction treatment programs to support a lasting recovery.

At Renaissance Recovery’s Orange County rehab, we can help set you up with a drug and alcohol detox program to ensure that those who are dealing with painful and obtrusive withdrawal symptoms get the help they need so they can focus solely on their recovery.

Intravenous drug use can quickly lead to addiction. Our team of certified experts can help you stop injecting drugs and overcome the long-term effects of substance abuse. Renaissance Recovery Center offers various addiction and substance abuse treatment programs to meet the unique needs of our clients. Contact our Renaissance Recovery’s substance abuse treatment center at 866.330.9449 for more information.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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