What Are Track Marks on Arms From Shooting Up?

Intravenous drug use statistics from the CDC show that individuals who inject substances are at a higher risk for developing severe conditions, such as HIV or Hepatitis. Injection drug use can also lead to overdose and addiction, which has the potential to have devastating effects on a person's life.

Identifying the signs of addiction, such as track marks from shooting up, is essential to help improve a person's health and well-being. Continue reading to learn more about intravenous drug use, the risks, what track marks look like and how you or a loved one can get help to overcome drug addiction.

What Drugs Can Be Taken Intravenously?

Intravenous drug use refers to injecting a needle into a vein to deliver a substance through the bloodstream. Injecting substances brings about the effects of a drug more quickly than other administration methods. Injections often contain a higher drug concentration, creating a fast and potent high. There are many substances that a person can administer through IV injections, including:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Opioids, such as fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall
  • PCP

While the goal is to reach the vein to deliver the substance, people often miss and inject the substance into their muscles instead. Even if a person misses their veins, they can still feel the effects of the drug through intramuscular injection. Regardless of whether the drug is injected into the muscle or veins, a person can cause significant damage to their body by choosing to administer substances this way.

The Risks of Intravenous Drug Use

Injecting substances directly into your bloodstream creates additional risks aside from those already associated with substance use. The various dangers of injection drug use include:

  • Bruising: Bruising from IV drug use is common since constantly injecting anything into the arm causes damage to the vein, which could result in bruising at the injection site. Since injection sites can vary, bruises may appear on the inside of the elbow or on the neck, hands, feet or legs.
  • Infections: Skin infections and abscesses are common among people who inject drugs. Reasons that a person could develop these infections include contaminants in the substance, poor hygiene and non-sterilized equipment. These factors can spread bacteria, resulting in severe skin infections and tissue damage that requires medical attention.
  • Endocarditis: Inflammation in the heart's inner lining is a condition called endocarditis, which can occur from consistent IV drug use. When a person injects a substance into their veins, it often drains into the right side of the heart, which can cause this condition. If endocarditis goes untreated, it can cause significant damage to the heart valves, leading to life-threatening complications.
  • HIV or AIDS: People who inject drugs and share needles risk developing bloodborne illnesses like HIV or AIDS. These conditions can significantly impact a person's well-being, especially while using illicit drugs.
  • Vein collapse: Injecting drugs at the same location can create scarring or bruising and can also cause your veins to collapse. Collapsed veins inhibit blood flow and do not function as they're supposed to, failing to deliver blood to the specific part of the body. Permanently collapsed veins can create coldness in the extremities and reduce circulation. 
  • Ulcers: Skin ulcers are open sores often caused by poor blood flow. People who inject drugs are more likely to develop skin ulcers, which could discharge blood or fluid in severe cases.
  • Overdose: People who inject substances are at an increased risk of overdose since they inject the substance directly into their bloodstream, which intensifies its effects. An overdose can cause permanent damage and even be fatal.

what are track marks

What Are Track Marks?

Track marks are one of the most evident physical signs of shooting up drugs. People inject drugs intravenously to experience a quicker rush, leaving noticeable marks at the injection site. Tracks marks look like scars, sores or other marks in common areas for injections. Track marks on the arms, particularly the forearm, are one of the most common areas, but you might also see track marks on a person's feet, toes, neck or hands.

Some injection drug users will wear long sleeve t-shirts or sweaters to hide their track marks, even if it's warm outside. While track marks are commonly found on the arms, continuous injection drug use can cause the injection site to become too damaged or scarred, making it challenging to keep injecting drugs into the same place. 

Instead, a person may inject a substance between their fingers, toes or veins in their hands. Some may even choose to inject substances into their groin or neck. Any area of the body where veins are visible through the skin can be a location for IV injections for those using substances.

If you're trying to identify track marks on a loved one, look in the most common spots, as these are the easiest to reach. Some track marks from shooting up are more challenging to hide than others, such as those on the hand or neck. Look for scarring or damaged skin, which may also have bruising. If you notice track marks on a loved one's skin, try to talk to them about their substance use and if they would consider seeking professional help.

Other Signs of IV Drug Use

If you're concerned that a loved one injects substances, there are signs you can look for aside from track marks to help you identify addiction and get them the help they need. Other physical and behavioral symptoms of IV drug use include:

  • Wearing long sleeves in hot weather to hide track marks
  • Habitual skin infections
  • Small pupils
  • Mood swings
  • Lethargy
  • Secrecy or denial
  • Drug paraphernalia left around the home
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Weight changes
  • Failure to keep up with responsibilities
  • Falling behind at work
  • Involvement in criminal activity
  • Lying or stealing to fund addiction

An addiction to intravenous drug use can have significant physical, mental and emotional effects on a person. Looking out for changes in their health, mood and behaviors is an excellent way to determine if a person has been using substances. It can help you quickly identify addiction and seek professional help.

Get Professional Help

What to Do if You Suspect a Loved One Is Using Intravenous Drugs

If you believe that a loved one is misusing substances and injecting drugs into the bloodstream, there are ways that you can help. Consider the following tips to help a loved one struggling with addiction:

  • Don't wait: It's not necessary to wait until your loved one experiences negative consequences from their substance use, such as arrests, medical emergencies or lost employment. In fact, it's best not to wait. Talking about their addiction early is the best way to encourage your loved one to get help before the negative consequences start to alter their life.
  • Be honest: It's essential to be honest with your loved one about how you believe their addiction affects their life and your relationship. Be honest about how their substance use makes you feel without accusing them or making them feel guilty.
  • Listen: You may disagree with your loved one's choices, but listening to what they have to say without arguing or getting defensive can go a long way in helping them overcome their addiction. When you listen, your loved one will see you as more supportive and more inclined to listen to what you have to say.
  • Provide information: One of the best ways you can help your loved one is by providing them with resources and knowledge to help them overcome their addiction. For example, you can give them a number to a helpline or set up a meeting with an addiction specialist. 
  • Know it takes time: Your initial conversation with your loved one will likely be the first of many. Overcoming a drug addiction takes time, and you'll probably have to discuss your loved one's substance use on more than one occasion. Remember that the healing process is a journey, and your continued support is vital to helping your loved one reach recovery.

diamond house detox can help your loved one

Diamond House Detox Can Help Your Loved One

If you're loved one is injecting drugs and struggling with addiction, Diamond House Detox is here to help. We provide our clients with privacy and quality care, ensuring they receive treatment without fear of judgment. We utilize evidence-based treatments and therapies to help your loved one detox from substances and move past old thought patterns and behaviors that contributed to their addiction.

We serve multiple areas across California, ensuring that your loved one can stay close to home while they recover. If you or a loved one is ready to take the first step toward recovery and improve your well-being, call us at (800) 205-6107 or contact us online to learn more about how we can help!

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Linked Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/pwid/surveillance.html
  2. https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-022-00624-6#:~:text=Bacterial%20skin%20and%20soft%20tissue,the%20healthcare%20system%20%5B20%5D.
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  4. https://diamondhousedetox.com/about-us/why-us/
  5. https://diamondhousedetox.com/about-us/service-areas/
  6. https://diamondhousedetox.com/contact-us/
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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