Several drugs are abused through intravenous (IV) injection. Heroin, a highly addictive and dangerous opioid, is a particularly well-known example. Other examples include methamphetamine, cocaine, painkillers (such as Percocet), and other opioids. Cellulitis from shooting up is one of the many dangers of IV drug abuse. This infection can spread through your body if left unchecked.
How You Get Cellulitis from Shooting Up
Cellulitis is a bacteria that lives on the skin and is usually harmless unless it enters your body. That can happen through any break in the skin, such as IV drug use. The resulting infection makes the skin red and swollen. Other signs may include:
- Stiff joints
- Boils or abscesses
You must seek a medical professional to treat any infection you have. Your doctor will be able to diagnose cellulitis during a physical exam. Typically, blood or lab tests are not necessary.
What If I Don’t Treat Cellulitis From Shooting Up?
If the infection isn’t treated right away with antibiotics, cellulitis can spread from your skin to your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening complications.
The presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) is hazardous. If a cellulitis infection enters your bloodstream, the infected blood can spread throughout the body and affect vital organs.
Cellulitis can result in infected tissue, which can keep the blood from circulating as it should. Without proper circulation, you can go into shock. This condition can severely damage your organs and even become life-threatening without professional medical attention.
Gangrene is not common, but it is perilous. This condition occurs when tissues become infected and don’t receive enough blood, causing the tissues to die. Doctors have to cut away dead tissue to keep it from spreading.
Infected blood can affect your bones, too. If you get cellulitis from shooting up and leave it unchecked, your legs and arms (common injection sites) will be at severe risk of bone infection (osteomyelitis).
Lymph nodes keep your immune system healthy. If these cell clusters are fighting an infection, they can swell. As a result, your lymph nodes will become weaker, which means the infection is likely to spread and worsen if you’re not taking care of it.
Other Factors in Cellulitis From Shooting Up
Cellulitis from shooting up is expected because the bacteria can enter through breaks in the skin, and injecting drugs creates such openings. IV drugs are very addictive, and many people who use them focus more on the drug’s effects than safe injection practices.
Repeatedly injecting the same spot will dramatically increase your chances of infection. If your immune system is already compromised, the odds you’ll get cellulitis are higher since your body is weak to fight off the infection.
Here are some other factors that increase your chances of getting cellulitis if you’re an IV drug user.
Skin That Isn’t Clean
Bacteria is typical on your skin. Some are harmless; some aren’t. Generally, skin that isn’t clean has more bacteria, which increases your chances of infection when a needle breaks the skin.
Licking or wiping the skin with water is not enough to kill bacteria. Licking the area first (or spitting on the needle to try and clean it) can introduce other harmful bacteria to the site. Alcohol or some other disinfectant is necessary.
Type of Drug
Many IV drugs are cut with something, and some of these substances can irritate the skin. Also, certain types of drugs, like a mixture of heroin or cocaine (“speedballs”), can increase your risk of cellulitis from shooting up.
Repeatedly injecting drugs into veins can cause them to collapse or become inaccessible. Trying to inject the drug under the skin in the fatty layer (“skin popping”) raises the chances of cellulitis.
Needles and other drug paraphernalia, like spoons, wash water, filters, etc., can become contaminated and cause cellulitis. Sharing needles, using a dull needle, or repeatedly using the same needle without proper cleaning raises your risk.
Treatment for Cellulitis from Shooting Up
The sooner you call your doctor about your skin issues, the better. If you get cellulitis from shooting up, your doctor can treat your condition with antibiotics or creams over a few weeks. Otherwise, cellulitis can spread quickly and cause more severe medical problems.
The best way to prevent cellulitis from shooting up is to quit altogether. If you or a loved one is abusing drugs and needs help, Ocean Hills Recovery is here for you. Contact us today to speak with a professional who cares.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.