From our heads to our toes, there are thousands of miles of little tubes that carry blood throughout our bodies: our blood vessels. Veins are a kind of blood vessel located close to the surface of our skin. Their job is to carry blood from throughout our body back to the heart and lungs to be oxygenated. Despite their important role, veins are also a common destination where IV drug users inject drugs. Both long and short-term use of drug injection can cause damage to the fragile connections that play a critical role in our cardiovascular system.
Is it possible to heal the damage from IV drug use once a person enters recovery? There’s no clear answer. The likelihood of healing will depend on a number of factors including the type of drug used, the frequency of injection, and the method of that injection. In most cases, total recovery of the veins is not possible but some degree of healing can occur.
Drugs Used via IV Injection
- Opioid painkillers
- Prescription stimulants
Types of Damage Caused by Drug Use
IV drug use can cause damage in many different ways, and some types of damage are worse than others. Factors that affect the type of damage include the injection site (where on the body the veins were injected), the substances injected, how long this type of drug use has been going on, and the skill of the person carrying out the injection. Possible damage may include:
- Blown veins: Also known as ruptured veins, this occurs when the vein is injured and blood leaks into the surrounding areas.
- Collapsed veins: Often caused by poor technique or frequent use of a particular injection site, a collapsed vein is when swelling or the collapse of the vein lining prevents blood from flowing through the vein.
- Scarred veins: Scar tissue can form when veins collapse or blow and can create a severe and potentially permanent blockage of the vein. Most often, this damage can only be repaired via surgical procedure.
Natural Vein Healing Capabilities
The human body has an incredible ability to heal itself and the veins are no exception. If you have ever had an IV drip or any type of IV injection — especially one that caused a bruise — you may have taken note that it quickly healed and everything went back to normal. However, repeated damage can make the healing process much more difficult, or even impossible for the body to do properly.
Tips for Healing Veins From IV Drug Use
When lasting damage is done to a vein, the body sometimes abandons trying to heal the existing vein and focuses on growing new veins – a process called angiogenesis. Although your body completes this process automatically, there are still a number of things you can do to support your body’s immune response, speed things along, and help heal damaged veins that are not beyond repair.
- Stay warm (keep your feet covered as much as possible with shoes, socks, blankets, etc.)
- Wear compression clothing (socks, sleeves, stockings)
- Get regular physical activity to improve circulation
- Consume proper nutrients (incorporate supplements that aid in cardiovascular health such as folic acid)
- Use a stress ball to exercise your veins and help develop muscles around them
- Practice vein rotation (alternate which vein is used when injecting intravenous to prevent further damage)
How Long Does It Take For Veins To Heal?
As mentioned earlier in this article, the body has an incredible ability to heal. The big question is how long does it take to heal veins from IV drug use? When IV injection is performed without incident and infrequently, the healing process is nearly immediate, just like when you get a vaccine at the doctor’s office. However, when damage occurs the healing process could vary from days to years. A blown vein typically heals completely in 10-12 days, but vein regrowth typically falls on the other end of the spectrum.
If you or a loved one is an IV drug user, getting help to quit this addiction is going to be critical to preventing permanent vein damage and many other negative outcomes. A structured rehab program with medical providers and trained professionals is the best option for individuals addicted to substances often consumed via IV injections (ie: heroin, meth, cocaine). Contact us today to learn more about your treatment option and get started on the road to healthier veins.