Identifying Heroin Track Marks

Heroin track marks look like scrapes, bruises, discolorations, or small puncture marks and are caused by intravenous drug use. These marks are commonly found on forearms where the veins are visible, but can also be found on other parts of the body where surface-level veins are present.

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Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


Heroin track marks can be difficult to distinguish from commonplace cuts, scratches, bruises, and abrasions to someone unfamiliar with the drug.

However, there are some ways that can aid in identifying heroin track marks in intravenous drug users.

What Do Heroin Track Marks Look Like?

Heroin track marks appear as discolored and sometimes raised marks along popular injection sites.

Most commonly found on the forearm or the inside of the elbow where veins are the most easily accessible, track marks can also appear on other areas of the body.

Prolonged heroin injection use sees these discolored track marks turn into scabs and lesions, with the skin surrounding the marks occasionally becoming infected and forming rashes.

How To Spot Heroin Track Marks

There are some common ways to identify heroin track marks, but many prolonged intravenous users of heroin have developed alibis and other ways of hiding their drug use.

If a person is constantly covering up their ankles, arms, or legs with tall socks or long sleeves, even in warm weather, this may be a tell-tale sign of heroin use.

Similarly, intravenous users may cover up their track marks with tattoos, as any track mark or bruised portion of skin is conveniently hidden under the ink.

Lasting financial problems also affect a large number of heroin users, so they may construct a web of convenient alibis or lies to cover up their monetary problems.

Common Injection Sites For Drug Use

The most common injection site for all types of intravenous drug use, including heroin, is the inner forearm since the veins are generally the most visible.

However, there are a number of other common injection sites, including the hands, neck, feet, crook of the arm, and groin.

What Causes Track Marks?

Track marks are caused by the puncturing of the needle into the skin, leading to bruising and slight surface-level contusions.

Likewise, the use of unsterilized injection needles can lead to the infection and or inflammation of the skin in the surrounding area.

Side Effects Of Track Marks Due To Heroin Use

The side effects of track marks, at least on the surface, are far less menacing than the internal physical and mental side effects of heroin drug abuse.


One of these side effects may be scarring, where the skin in the area becomes infected, scabs over, and heals but leaves behind a permanent mark.

Risk For Infection

The health risks of intravenous drug use predispose IV drug users to a host of serious health complications that are not necessarily found when using drugs in other forms.

For instance, the risks of blood clots and infections from unsterilized needles can be life-threatening when left untreated.

Collapsed Veins

One health risk associated with IV drug use is the potential for collapsed veins. This usually occurs if the injection is too shallow.

A shallow injection means that the majority, or at least some, of the injected substance misses its mark and pools underneath the skin.

Additionally, the PH level of heroin is so strong that veins can close off and collapse due to the high acidity levels of the injected substance.

This can prevent the stream of blood from flowing properly, sometimes leading to permanent vein closure, and in some rare cases necessitating the amputation of a limb.


When heroin or any other illicit substance is injected improperly and is shallow as a result, the high acidity levels can cause infection and promote abscess growth underneath the skin.

Will Track Marks Heal?

Track marks from heroin use can heal, but this depends on the severity of use.

For instance, some track marks are permanently scarred due to prolonged intravenous drug usage.

This will likely not heal as scar tissue, especially on the surface of the skin, is generally permanent.

Treatment For Track Mark Scar Tissue

There are a number of track mark scar treatment methods. Vitamin E and aloe vera lotions have been known to reduce track marks and aid in the healing process, for instance.

For more serious scars, scar cream may prove more useful in speeding up the healing process.

Treatment For Collapsed Veins From IV Drug Use

Collapsed veins are caused by injecting drugs for a prolonged period of time and most commonly occur when the same injection site is repeatedly used.

These may be caused by injections from a blunt or used needle, needle heads that are too big for the vein site being used, or irritants inside the injected substance.

To treat a collapsed vein, the most important step is to stop injecting in that same location, and to keep the skin clean as it attempts to heal.

Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, can also help to reduce pain and swelling. If the area becomes swollen, antibiotics may be necessary to combat the infection.

Treatment For Infections Caused By Heroin Injection

Infections caused by heroin injection call immediately for blood sampling in order to determine the best course of action.

First, the needle needs to be removed, and the injection site changed. Then, once blood sampling has been taken, different types of antibiotic therapy are administered.

Treatment Options For Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can be a difficult obstacle to overcome, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Treatment programs for heroin use can include mental health and drug abuse services in the form of substance use disorder therapy, inpatient and outpatient treatment, heroin detox, and more.

Find Heroin Addiction Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we know how difficult it can be to overcome a heroin addiction.

That’s why we tailor our programs to meet your individual needs, address all issues related to substance abuse, and help you succeed in addiction recovery.

If you or a loved one you know are searching for a drug treatment facility to recover from a heroin drug addiction, give our hotline a call today to discuss obtaining a free referral.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Information on Heroin Addiction
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine — Information On Intravenous Infection Treatment,tip%20sent%20for%20semiquantitative%20culture.

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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