Signs of Intravenous Drug Abuse

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Frequent syringe use can leave evident marks.
Frequent syringe use can leave evident marks. (Image: syringe image by NatUlrich from Fotolia.com)

Intravenous drug abuse, known as "shooting up" in slang, usually involves heroin, although other drugs can also be administered intravenously. Heroin abuse can be detected either through signs on the body of the user or by typical addictive behaviors such as erratic mood swings, compulsive theft and nodding off. Use of dirty needles can also lead to contraction of hepatitis and HIV, either of which will present further physical symptoms that combine with the symptoms of addiction.

Physical Signs of Heroin Use

The most definite sign that someone is using intravenous drugs is the presence of "tracks," meaning small red marks, pin pricks or bruising, usually on the inside of the elbows, the most common place to inject drugs. Remember, however, that these marks alone don't indicate heroin use; diabetics and others also use needles for health reasons.

Another physical sign of heroin use is very constricted pupils in the eyes, even in dim light. This occurs because the heroin relaxes the muscles in the body, causing the retina to close.

Behaviors

Heroin is a highly addictive drug, which means that many people who don't necessarily want to be using it continue to use it because they feel a physical need for it. Addicts who are unable to acquire the drug legally often turn to theft to finance their habit. Someone who is constantly stealing, borrowing or selling off his possessions but never seems to have any money may be addicted. Heroin addicts are also prone to "nodding off" immediately after a fix, meaning that they enter a somnambulent state that isn't exactly asleep or awake, but from which they can't be roused.

Symptoms of an Addict

Long-term heroin addicts exhibit signs that are more serious than those listed above. Hard-core addicts may lose a great deal of weight and appear unhealthily thin. Their skin may take on a pale color and exhibit decreased turgor, meaning that if the skin is pinched up into a ridge, it tends to stay there rather than returning to a smooth state. General health may suffer as a result of heroin addiction, resulting in poor teeth, bad digestion and other problems. Many of these problems may be exacerbated or even caused by the personal neglect that is often a result of addiction, rather than by the drug directly.

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