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What are Track Marks and What Do They Look Like?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

According to the World Health Organization, 11 million people inject drugs globally.[1] While most people assume that IV drug use is only common among the houseless, this type of drug addiction can affect people from all walks of life. In fact, drug addiction can start as a seemingly harmless prescription, only to progress into intravenous drug abuse down the line.

If you have heard about IV drug use, you are probably also familiar with the term “track marks.” But what exactly are track marks? And what do they look like?

Being aware of what track marks are, what they look like, and other ways to spot IV drug addiction can better equip you to help a loved one who is struggling.

What are Track Marks?

Track marks are the easiest way to tell if someone is suffering from IV drug use. These marks appear on an individual’s skin after they use a needle to inject drugs. As someone progresses in their addiction and reuses certain injection points, their track marks will begin to appear more pronounced and easier to see.

Long-term IV drug use will damage your skin and veins, leading to the formation of scars on the injection sites. Additionally, if you are using old or blunt needles that require more pressure, your track marks will be more visible to others.

In other words, track marks are simply scars left behind from using a needle to inject drugs. Certain factors can make your track marks more pronounced, especially if you use the same injection site repeatedly.

What Do Track Marks Look Like?

Track marks look like small holes in a person’s skin and can vary in appearance depending on the healing stage they are in.

For example, fresh track marks look like bright red or pink punctures. Once they begin to heal, a scab will form, and possibly some bruising around the injection site, eventually turning into a scar. These scars might appear white or pink.

Sometimes, the veins can scar as well after repeated injections. If this happens, the vein will look darker than usual, appearing more visible from the outside of the skin. This can also be accompanied by dark bruising.

While it is common to inject drugs into the arm, many people choose to use other areas of their bodies that are easier to conceal. For example, some people may shoot up into their feet where no one will be able to see their track marks. If your loved one is shooting up into their arms, you might notice that they wear long sleeves even when it is hot outside.

Can Track Marks Be Dangerous?

While track marks themselves are not dangerous, there are some injuries and infections people can receive from using a needle to inject drugs.

The risks of IV drug use to your skin include:[2]

  • Abscesses – abscesses can occur as a buildup of pus under your skin when bacteria gets introduced from the needle you are using.
  • Collapsed Veins – when you continuously inject into the same vein, you can cause damage that causes blood to no longer flow through the vein.
  • Ulcers – when you inject drugs into your veins you can experience skin ulcers that result from poor circulation.

In addition to skin infections and collapsed veins, people who use IV drugs are at risk of contracting blood-borne diseases. This commonly occurs among individuals who share needles with other people. According to the WHO, 1 in 8 IV drug users are living with HIV.[1]

Other Signs of IV Drug Use to Be Aware Of

If you are worried that your loved one is abusing IV drugs, track marks aren’t the only sign you can look for. IV drug abuse can cause an array of symptoms, with some depending on the type of drug your loved one is using. For example, heroin, meth, crack, and prescription opioids are common types of IV drugs.

If you are concerned that your loved one is injecting heroin or other substances, look for the following signs:

  • Wearing long sleeves or pants when it is hot outside
  • Experiencing frequent skin infections and abscesses
  • Drug paraphernalia like needles, burnt spoons, a lighter, cotton balls, rubbing alcohol, or some type of tourniquet
  • Behavioral changes such as social withdrawal, frequent lying, or unusual sleeping and eating habits
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they are not under the influence of a substance
  • Frequently asking for money or stealing from family and friends
  • Having a hard time maintaining responsibilities at home, work, or school

These symptoms are clear indications that your loved one is abusing drugs intravenously. If you notice these signs as well as track marks, it’s time to consider finding your loved one professional addiction treatment. IV drug abuse can quickly lead to life-threatening health conditions, including fatal overdoses.

Find Help for IV Drug Addiction

If you or a loved one inject drugs, it’s time to seek professional help. IV drug abuse can lead to an array of adverse health effects, including increasing your risk of developing HIV or hepatitis. Thankfully, addiction treatment programs like Carolina Center for Recovery can provide you with the tools and support you need to overcome IV drug addiction.

To learn more about our drug rehab programs in North Carolina, contact Carolina Center for Recovery today.


  1. The World Health Organization (WHO): People who inject drugs, Retrieved June 2023 From
  2. The National Library of Medicine: Skin and soft tissue infections in injection drug users, Retrieved June 2023 From