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The Dangers Of Using Cocaine Intravenously (IV)

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There are many dangerous side effects of using cocaine intravenously. When cocaine is used intravenously (IV), also referred to as shooting, it is administered into a vein and directly introduced into the bloodstream.

Intravenous cocaine use can cause a wide range of health issues, including:

  • inflamed or collapsed veins
  • skin infection, abscesses, cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis
  • bacteria buildup, or infection in the cardiac valves, endocarditis
  • swelling of the feet, ankles and legs as a result of poor blood flow to extremities

Injecting cocaine is risky because each time someone uses the drug they are increasing the risk of contracting infection and developing a condition called sepsis. Sepsis, sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, is the body’s natural response to infection.

Some of the common complications from intravenous cocaine use begin with the injection process, sometimes referred to as “skin-popping.” Someone who regularly uses cocaine by injection may experience injection wounds, cuts or other breaks in the skin.

Cocaine use produces many cardiac problems due to the extra stress put on the cardiovascular system during each use. It is possible for people who have used cocaine by repeated injection to develop a condition called venous sclerosis, wherein the vein becomes so inflamed that blood is no longer able to flow through it.

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When this occurs, individuals may begin injecting cocaine into a large muscle or directly under the skin instead of into a vein. Injecting the drug into the muscle can be very dangerous and cause other health issues, including skin infection, gangrene and tetanus.

Abusing cocaine intravenously can also be dangerous due to additives commonly mixed with the drug. Possible additives in cocaine include: baking soda, sugar, ephedrine, local anesthetics and other drugs, like methamphetamine or animal dewormer.

These additives can cause acute inflammation around the injection site, potentially clogging blood vessels and leading to damage of the internal organs including the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart and brain.

Health Risks Of Long-Term Cocaine Use

Long-term health risks of intravenous cocaine use include increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other bloodborne diseases. Other risks of long-term cocaine use may include becoming malnourished and certain movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which can develop many years after use.

Some people also report irritability and restlessness as a result of cocaine binges. In some cases, individuals may experience severe paranoia, during which they lose touch with reality and have auditory hallucinations (hear things that are not real).

Another danger of abusing cocaine is the chance of overdosing. Long-term cocaine use can result in individuals developing a tolerance, meaning they will need larger, more frequent doses of the drug to produce the same effects. This increase in dose and usage can increase the risk of overdose.

Some symptoms of cocaine overdose include:

  • visual or auditory hallucinations
  • delirium
  • hypertension (dangerously high blood pressure)
  • tachycardia (abnormally rapid heartbeat)
  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)

It is easy for an individual to overdose on cocaine, especially when abusing it intravenously. Even one-time use of cocaine can result in overdose and, in some cases, sudden death.

Physical Signs Of Intravenous (IV) Cocaine Use

According to a 2014 study, about 2.6 percent of people in the U.S. (13 years and older) inject themselves with drugs, including cocaine. Injecting cocaine is associated with rapid addiction. Addiction to cocaine is more severe when people inject it over other methods of use, like snorting, though the reason for this increased severity is yet medically unknown.

Some physical signs of intravenous cocaine use include needle (track) marks on the skin, collapsed veins, abscesses on the skin, and heart infections.

Long-term intravenous cocaine use can also result in individuals experiencing stiffening of the arteries in the heart, an effect which increases risk of heart attack.

Psychological Signs Of Intravenous Cocaine Use

The effects of cocaine on the brain are still being investigated. However, there are some common signs of cocaine use that people can exhibit.

Cocaine use is often associated with signs of increased energy and mental focus, but cocaine use can also produce negative side effects. These negative side effects can include:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • erratic and violent behavior
  • panic attacks
  • paranoia
  • psychosis

Suddenly stopping cocaine use can also produce negative behaviors in some individuals.

How Intravenous Cocaine Use Affects The Brain

A short time after someone injects cocaine, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. Once in the brain, cocaine affects the neurotransmitter (chemical) levels of dopamine released into the brain. The rapid influx of dopamine in the brain is the cause of the intense high brought on by cocaine use.

Dopamine is vital to regulating a wide range of bodily functions, including movement, physical and emotional tension/relaxation states, learning and attention span. Dopamine is also associated with regulating pleasure and motivation.

Cocaine is thought to be highly addictive because of the dopamine release it produces, as this release positively reinforces addictive behaviors. Cocaine quickly hijacks the brain’s reward center and disrupts the normal communication pathways, which leads to increasing amounts of dopamine.

Because of cocaine’s short half-life, the effects of the drug do not last long. Typically, effects of cocaine will last from a few minutes up to an hour. Even when injected, cocaine produces a short-lived high, which can drive individuals to continue to inject the drug.

When someone develops tolerance to cocaine, they will start to inject the drug repeatedly in an effort to experience the same, original high. This behavior is also referred to as “binging.” The practice of binging is largely caused by the psychological effects of cocaine, and places significant strain on the heart and brain.

When someone suddenly stops or cuts down the amount of cocaine they are taking, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Cocaine Detoxification And Withdrawal

Detoxing from cocaine usually takes about a week, though individual experiences may vary depending on the severity of addiction. Cocaine withdrawal happens when someone who has misused cocaine constantly for three or more weeks suddenly cuts down or stops using.

Withdrawal symptoms may occur even if there is still some cocaine left in the individual’s system. When cocaine use is stopped, the brain experiences a major drop in dopamine, causing many people to experience a state of depression. When someone ends a cocaine binge, the crash follows almost right away.

Most of the time, cocaine withdrawal does not consist of any physical withdrawal symptoms, like vomiting and tremors, often associated with opioid or alcohol withdrawal. Instead, cocaine withdrawal consists mostly of psychological symptoms, which may include:

  • agitation and restless behavior
  • depressed mood
  • fatigue
  • general feelings of discomfort
  • increased appetite
  • vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • slowed physical activity

Intense cravings for cocaine can also last for months after stopping long-term, heavy cocaine use. It is possible for some people to experience suicidal thoughts while going through cocaine withdrawal.

Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

Treatment for cocaine addiction, no matter the method of use, is available. Medically-supervised detoxification programs can be helpful when detoxing from cocaine, due to the increased risk of relapse during the detox and withdrawal processes. Inpatient treatment programs may help people in recovery from cocaine use to learn behavior modification skills in order to manage addiction long-term.

To learn more about intravenous cocaine use and addiction treatment, contact us today.