Missed Shot Arm bruise from injecting drugs - Shooting Up Errors | How To Know When You Missed

Some people inject drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Injecting a drug (also called “shooting up”) means using a needle to deliver the drug into a vein. 

Sometimes, the needle fails to enter the vein, slips out of the vein, or passes through to the opposite wall of the vein. This is called a “missed shot.” Here’s how to tell if you missed a shot and what to do about it

How To Identify A Missed Shot

In general, people who inject drugs feel the effects within a few minutes. If you miss the shot, you won’t feel the effects at all. 

You may also experience pain and swelling at the injection site. These symptoms often indicate an abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus caused by an infection. Other symptoms of an abscess at the injection site may include:

  • redness
  • tenderness
  • warmth
  • foul smell

In some cases, an abscess may also cause fever and chills.

What To Do If You Miss A Shot

If you missed a shot but don’t notice signs of an abscess, apply a heating pad or warm, wet towel to the injection site. The warmth will increase blood circulation and reduce the risk of an abscess. 

Wait a few hours before applying any creams, oils, or lotions to the injection site. When applied too soon after a missed shot, these substances can increase the risk of infection. 

Look For Signs Of An Abscess

Over the next few days, watch the injection site for signs of an abscess. 

If you think you have an abscess, seek medical attention right away. You will likely be given antibiotics. The doctor may also need to drain the abscess of pus. When left untreated, an abscess can have life-threatening complications. 

Use Harm Reduction Resources

Some injection drug users fear they will be judged when seeking treatment for an abscess. 

If you don’t feel comfortable contacting your healthcare provider or visiting an emergency room, reach out to your local harm reduction center. They may have healthcare professionals on staff who can treat your abscess. 

Risks Of Injection Drug Use

Even if you never miss a shot, injection drug use poses serious side effects and health risks, including:

Collapsed Veins

When you repeatedly inject a drug into the same vein, clots may form in the vein’s walls. Eventually, the clots will harden into scar tissue, causing the veins to collapse. Common symptoms of collapsed veins include discoloration, tenderness, and bruising at the injection site.

When left untreated, collapsed veins hinder your blood circulation and raise your risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke.


When you inject a drug, bacteria, fungi, or other germs may enter your bloodstream. This can lead to endocarditis, which is a life-threatening infection of the heart valves. Common symptoms include fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

Wound Botulism

Wound botulism is a rare, life-threatening illness that occurs when a germ known as Clostridium botulinum enters a wound. It can cause serious symptoms like trouble swallowing, trouble breathing, and loss of muscle function. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you’re more likely to develop wound botulism if you inject a type of heroin called black tar heroin. 

Infectious Diseases

If you share needles, syringes, tourniquets, or other tools for injecting drugs, you face a high risk of infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. 

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can have serious complications, including liver cancer and liver failure. 

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks your immune system. When left untreated, it can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). 


Injection drug use poses a high risk of overdose. That’s because it delivers the drug to your body very rapidly. Depending on the drug you used, signs of an overdose may include dizziness, nausea, and loss of consciousness. When left untreated, a drug overdose can be fatal.

The only way to avoid the above risks is to stop injecting drugs. 

If you feel unable to do so, you may have a drug addiction (also called substance use disorder). If you or someone you love shows lives with drug addiction, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center

Our substance abuse treatment programs offer mental health counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and other evidence-based services to help you or your loved one stay drug-free. 

Keep Reading:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — HIV and Injection Drug Use

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Injection Drug Use and Wound Botulism

International Journal of Drug Policy — Not in the vein: ‘missed hits’, subcutaneous and intramuscular injections and associated harms among people who inject psychoactive drugs in Bristol, United Kingdom

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.