Most drug users don’t start injecting drugs. However, those seeking to get a quick high can eventually progress to intravenous drugs. Unlike other types of addictions, this one leaves physical signs behind that are visible for anyone to see. Here’s you need to know about track marks and what they can tell you about someone’s addiction.
What Are Track Marks?
Track marks are scar tissue that follows the path of veins. These marks are caused by chronic intravenous drug use. In most cases, the marks appear in the forearms but can appear any place on the body where repeated injections of drugs such as heroin or meth occur. They are often the most visible telltale sign of drug abuse.
What Causes Track Marks?
A classic telltale sign of an individual who abuses drugs is track marks. These scars are most common in heroin users, but any drug that an addict is routinely injecting can and will cause these marks. Old needles, of those who share needles and impure drugs, can also increase the risk of these marks appearing.
Common drug addictions that cause injection marks include:
- Cocaine (including crack)
- Opioid painkillers
- Prescription stimulants
Many addicts try to convince family and friends that the marks on their bodies occurred after first-time use, but this is not medically possible. All marks and scars are the results of continual drug use over a significant time.
Fundamentally, the act of continually injecting a needle into the same spot disrupts the skin, bruising, and eventually mutilating the veins in that area.
How Do They Look?
Track marks are easy to identify by their dark pigmentation and bruising. Their appearances can vary, depending on:
- The frequency people use injection drugs
- How recently
- How sensitive their skin is
- Any underlying health conditions that cause bruising
Most look like fresh bruising. On occasions, when the wound is fresh, dried blood might be present around the injection site. As intravenous drug use continues, marks will have cracked skin around them, and skin infections. Veins around the injection site will also look more raised and darker.
How Addicts Hide Track Marks
The indicators of using drugs intravenously are very noticeable, and most heroin addicts go to great lengths to hide them. Heroin abusers, try and to spread out injection sites and limit the extent of the marks, will start shooting heroin in non-conventional places on the body.
Alternative injection sites include but are not limited to the groin, neck, hands, feet, and toes. Areas that are conventionally covered by clothing and make-up are the places most injections occur. Many addicts will cover their scars by wearing long sleeves regardless of the weather.
Are Track Marks Dangerous?
Beyond the fact that injection marks are indicative of severe drug addiction, they can lead to other health problems. They can cause collapsed veins, which occurs when the lining is damaged, and blood clots start forming.
When using dirty or dull needles, users have a higher risk of infection. Most of the time, people using drugs inravenously use substances contaminated with bacteria or fungi, which causes infections. When someone faces a blood infection, it can quickly escalate if such infection travels to the brain, heart, or other major organs.
The result of repeated punctures, which prevent the vein walls from staying open to maximize blood flow. Collapsed veins require medical treatment. When left untreated, they can cause circulation problems that might lead to heart issues, strokes, kidney disease, and more. As well as the cyanosis of the limbs, or blue skin, due to lack of oxygen supply.
Scar tissue usually forms with frequent injections, especially if the puncture site hasn’t healed. Scar tissue can be extensive and even prevent some veins from being used for intravenous access again.
An abscess is a swollen mass that happens due to an underlying infection. Most of the time, they’re the result of bacerial infections and are usually painful. Abscesses need a surgical procedure to be drained and release the buildup of pus. Antiobiotics are also needed to help the body get rid of the infection.
What to Do?
The moment you see family or friends with injection marks anywhere in their bodies, speak up. Track marks are the first sign of shooting drugs. If someone you love has any marks and is addicted to drugs, the scars and bruises are the least of their concerns. Make sure you remember to:
- Speak with them when they’re not under the influence
- Research drug treatment facilities in your area
- Contact an interventionist to encourage your loved one to seek help
- Find support for yourself by looking for medical advice, seeing a therapist, or group support meetings
It’s crucial that no matter what, they seek treatment. When someone already has visible track marks, it means their addiction has reached a chronic state, and can lead to many health risks, including overdose.
Can Marks Heal?
Individuals who inject drugs into their veins on a consistent and addictive basis will always have marks until they cease use. Ointments, creams, and various wound care techniques can be used with limited success, but the only way to remove these marks is to seek addiction therapy. These unsightly blemishes will go away with time but can and will reappear unless the habit is discontinued permanently.
Those with damaged veins need to seek medical attention to address a potential infection. Serious bloodstream infections can lead to significant health complications. In the long run, some plastic surgeons might be able to reduce the appearance of damaged veins as well.
Seeking Help Today
These marks don’t just suddenly disappear. One study found that over 53 percent of former IV drug users had significantly visible scars even after five years. Whether you’re looking for help for yourself or a loved one, addiction treatment is the best way to say goodbye to track marks. And most importantly, the only way to address the underlying issue — addiction.
Starting with our medical detox programs and following up with our intensive patient programs, together, we can fight this addiction and help you or your loved one start their path towards recovery. Our evidence-based treatment options at Lighthouse Recovery Institute helps those struggling with addiction to find the right path to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with intravenous drug addiction, contact us to start substance abuse treatment and start your journey towards sobriety.