How to Spot Track Marks?

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Heroin is an illegal and widely used drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 902,000 Americans over the age of 12 used heroin at least once over the course of the past year. Of these people, around 691,000 suffer from a diagnosable heroin use disorder. The impact that heroin has had on the country as a whole has been significant. Since gaining rampant popularity, heroin has led to thousands of preventable deaths. NIDA reports an estimated 14,019 people died from an overdose involving heroin in 2019 alone. If someone close to you has been using heroin, you understand the immense devastation the drug can cause. Because heroin is so addictive and because associated withdrawal symptoms are so severe, people will often continue using heroin despite serious personal consequences, which can range from physical issues like track marks to financial ruin, homelessness, and overdose-related death.

If you have been watching someone you love struggle with a heroin use disorder, you might be feeling frustrated, helpless, hopeless and alone. Rest assured, there are countless people who have been exactly where you are now, and who have successfully helped a loved one through the addiction recovery process. At Guardian Recovery we have developed a heroin addiction treatment program that is both individualized and effective; one that takes the well-being of the entire family into careful account. We know how difficult it can be to watch someone you love fight a seemingly losing battle against heroin addiction. But with the right tools and treatment program in place, recovery is always possible. Contact us today to learn more.

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What are Track Marks?

Track marks occur when a person who is using drugs intravenously experiences bruising or discoloration at the injection site. Track marks typically show up on the inner arms, where veins are easily accessible. However, if a person has been using heroin for an extended period of time, they might start to inject the drug into different parts of the body. This is usually the case if they experience a collapsed vein, or if the skin on the inner arms has been significantly damaged (from scarring or infection). If your loved one is attempting to keep their drug use a secret, they might inject the drug into parts of the body that are not typically visible, like the feet or legs. They might also start to wear long-sleeved shirts or sweatshirts in an attempt to cover bruising and scarring on the inner arms.

Track marks begin to develop when the same vein is utilized for drug injection more than once. The skin surrounding the injection site might appear red, raw and irritated. The skin might be covered in scar tissue, or it might be bruised and swollen. If the injection site becomes infected, a person might develop an abscess or other noticeable symptoms. If you notice track marks on the inner arms or anywhere else on the body, it is a very good indication that your loved one has been struggling with intravenous drug addiction and requires immediate professional help.

How to Tell if Your Loved One is Using Drugs Intravenously

How can you tell whether or not your loved one is using drugs intravenously outside of physical indications like track marks? While the symptoms associated with addiction present differently in different people, there are some telltale signs and symptoms of intravenous drug addiction that remain the same across the board. If you would like any additional information, contact Guardian Recovery directly.

Signs & Symptoms of Intravenous Drug Addiction

Some people choose to use drugs intravenously, by injecting the substance directly into the bloodstream using a syringe. This method of ingestion speeds up and intensifies the effects of the substance by bypassing the process of first pass metabolism that orally ingested drugs undergo. Using drugs intravenously is typically more dangerous than using drugs orally or nasally. However, it is important to note that there is no safe way to use drugs like heroin.

The Behavioral Symptoms of Intravenous Drug Use

If your loved one has been suffering from heroin addiction and has been using the drug intravenously, they will likely exhibit the following behavioral warning signs:

  • An increased need for privacy/more time spent alone.
  • Frequent and long trips to the restroom.
  • Appearing disheveled/less attention paid to personal hygiene and appearance.
  • Asking for or stealing money or valuable possessions.
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities or activities that were previously enjoyed.

The Physical Symptoms of Intravenous Drug Use

If your loved one has been suffering from heroin addiction and has been using the drug intravenously, they will likely exhibit the following physical warning signs:

  • Track marks on the inner arms and potentially on other parts of the body.
  • Significant weight loss.
  • Small pupils and watery, bloodshot eyes.
  • Severely itchy skin.
  • Appearing excessively drowsy or fatigued.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

The Psychological Symptoms of Intravenous Drug Use

If your loved one has been suffering from heroin addiction and has been using the drug intravenously, they will likely exhibit the following psychological warning signs:

  • Anxiety/seeming stressed out and fidgety for no apparent reason.
  • Mood swings, which are typically characterized by irritability and agitation.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Preoccupation with heroin/experiencing intense cravings.

Heroin Paraphernalia

If your loved one is injecting heroin intravenously, you might find paraphernalia like hypodermic needles or syringes, crude tourniquets fashioned from a belt, a shoelace or a rubber tube, and concealer used to cover up track marks. You might find torn up and stained cotton balls or q-tips, used to remove impurities from the heroin after it has been melted down. Metal spoons are frequently used to melt down the heroin; paraphernalia includes spoons which have been bent and burned (you might notice spoons are missing from your utensil drawer). Bottle caps can also be used to reduce heroin to a liquid. You might also find one or several lighters stashed away. If you are unsure whether or not professional help has become necessary, continue keeping an eye out for warning signs — and contact Guardian Recovery with any unanswered questions.

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How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

Helping a loved one who is struggling with addiction is not always a straightforward process. Addiction and denial often go hand-in-hand. In many cases, a person who is in the throes of heroin addiction will refuse to acknowledge that a problem exists, even when it is abundantly clear to the rest of the world. Fortunately, there are steps you can take.

Staging an Intervention

How can you help someone who is struggling with a life-threatening heroin addiction and refuses to seek the professional help they so clearly need? Staging an intervention is often a good place to start. During an intervention, you will sit down with your addicted loved one and with other close friends and family members, and you will present a treatment option to be taken advantage of immediately. You will lay out personal boundaries, and explain what actions you will take if your loved one refuses treatment.

At Guardian Recovery we work closely with several trained interventionists, all who boast extremely high success rates and who understand the importance of receiving treatment as quickly as possible. The moment you make the decision to contact us we put you into touch with one of these compassionate interventionists, who then walks you through every additional stage of the process from start to finish. Treatment does not need to be initially voluntary in order to be effective. Contact us to learn more about staging an intervention.

Treatment Options for Intravenous Drug Addiction

At Guardian Recovery we believe in a whole-person approach to addiction treatment as well as a multi-phased program of recovery, regardless of the severity of the problem at hand. We suggest beginning with medical detox, where your loved one undergoes a safe and pain-free heroin withdrawal. Next, we recommend they transition directly into a higher level of clinical care. This could be residential inpatient treatment, PHP or IOP depending on the needs of your loved one. Our Treatment Advisors are standing by to help you determine which level of care is the most appropriate choice. Contact us today to learn more.

Medical Detox

When it comes to heroin addictionmedical detox always comes as a recommended first step on the road to recovery. The physical symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal are not typically life-threatening, but associated cravings can be so intense and overwhelming that they lead a person back to heroin use before the detox process has come to an end. In most cases, the symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be effectively treated with a combination of over-the-counter medication and bed rest. However, additional medications might be necessary in the case of severe heroin use disorders.

Residential Inpatient Treatment

Residential treatment is often recommended for those who have been struggling with a moderate or severe heroin use disorder or who have a co-occurring disorder (an addiction and an underlying mental illness). Most residential treatment programs last for between 28 and 60 days, though the duration can be easily adjusted based on the needs of the individual. In residential treatment a person will undergo intensive therapy, learn essential relapse prevention skills and address any lingering consequences of active addiction.

Outpatient Treatment and MAT

Outpatient treatment often serves as a step down level of care for a person who has recently completed medical detox and inpatient treatment. Most IOP programs meet several days a week for between 3 and 4 hours a day. If a person is in recovery for a particularly severe heroin use disorder, it is a good idea for them to find an IOP program which offers medication assisted treatment, or MAT. Medications like Suboxone often mean the difference between continued sobriety and a return to heroin use. It is important to note medications like Suboxone are most effective when coupled with intensive behavioral therapy and ongoing peer support groups.

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When you or your loved one is ready to ask for help, Guardian Recovery will be available. Our admissions process is simple and straightforward and can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. We provide a complimentary pre-assessment during our initial phone call, which helps our clinical team determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We then offer a free insurance benefits check. At Guardian Recovery we work with most major national health insurance providers as well as regional providers in numerous states. Once we have determined which level of care is best-suited for your loved one and worked through potential coverage options, the next step is to coordinate local travel to our facility. All you or your loved one has to do is ask for help, we will take care of the rest. Contact us today to learn more about our effective, multi-staged program of heroin addiction recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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