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Heroin Track Marks: What To Look for and How to Get Help

One of the best ways to detect heroin abuse in a loved one is by looking for heroin track marks. These are needle marks on the arms or elsewhere on the body. Track marks are a common sign that someone is struggling with an addiction to heroin. In this article, we’ll cover what heroin track marks look like and how to help someone with heroin addiction find the treatment they need to recover.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a powerful and addictive opioid drug made from morphine. It most often comes in the form of a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” Heroin can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked.

Morphine, the base of heroin, is an opiate made from poppy plants used for pain relief for centuries. Its history dates back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Heroin itself was first synthesized in the late 19th century by C.R. Alder Wright, a British chemist. Initially, it was developed as a potential remedy to reduce morphine addiction and respiratory illnesses.

However, it soon became evident that heroin was even more addictive than morphine. By the early 20th century, countries began to recognize the dangers of heroin, leading to strict regulations in many parts of the world. Due to its high potential for abuse, risk of physical dependence, and life-threatening side effects, the United States outlawed the use of heroin in 1914.

Today, the use of heroin remains strictly illegal. It’s considered a Schedule I Controlled Substance, meaning it is considered to have no medical value whatsoever. However, that hasn’t stopped it from being a widespread drug of abuse. Heroin abuse is sadly all too common, with different variants like Zaza gas station heroin and others continuing to emerge.

Heroin in all its forms is extremely dangerous. If you find heroin track marks on the arms of your loved one, it’s time to get them help.

Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin’s high potential for addiction is primarily due to its profound effects on the brain. When heroin enters the body, it travels quickly to the brain, where it is converted back into morphine and binds to specific molecular structures known as opioid receptors.

These receptors are located in many brain regions, but their concentration in areas involved in the perception of pain and reward makes them particularly significant in the context of heroin use.

When it binds to those receptors, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This brain chemical controls emotions, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The release of dopamine creates a powerful sense of euphoria or a “high.”

The experience is so intensely pleasurable right away that it can quickly lead to psychological dependence, as the user associates heroin use with pleasure and relief from discomfort.

Aside from this, the body can also become accustomed to heroin. If a dependent person stops using heroin, they experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be extremely uncomfortable and even painful, including nausea, muscle aches, fever, and anxiety.

Over the long term, heroin can restructure the brain, reducing a person’s ability to make good decisions, regulate mood, and deal with stress. These changes are not easily reversed.

Heroin Addiction Symptoms

There are a variety of signs someone might be using heroin. Aside from heroin track marks, these include:

  • Constricted (“pinpoint”) pupils
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intense itching
  • Track marks (needle marks or bruises along veins)
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Neglect of responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Deceptive behavior (lying, stealing, secretive behavior)
  • Increased sleeping or erratic sleep patterns
  • Financial problems
  • Risky behavior (e.g., driving under the influence, using dirty needles)
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Cravings for heroin

If you suspect someone of using heroin, it’s time they got help. Contact South Coast Behavioral Health today to get started.

How Do People Use Heroin?

Heroin is used in several ways, each with its own degree of risk and danger.

Common ways people use heroin include:

  • Injecting heroin
  • Snorting heroin
  • Smoking heroin

All forms of heroin abuse come with their own set of risks. However, injection is the most dangerous. This is due to its immediate and intense effects, high risk of heroin overdose, and the potential for transmitting blood-borne diseases through needle sharing. Injection is also what leads to heroin track marks. 

Injecting Heroin

Injection is the most common way heroin is used. Injecting heroin is the quickest way to introduce because it’s the most direct way to introduce the drug into the bloodstream, thus yielding the fastest and most potent high. Heroin is dissolved in water and injected into a vein under the skin. This method is also the most dangerous due to the risk of overdose, vein damage (one of the causes of heroin track marks), and the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis through needle sharing. This method of abuse can also result in skin infections on and around the injection site.

Snorting Heroin

Heroin can also be snorted. Snorting heroin leads to the drug being absorbed through the nasal tissues into the bloodstream. While snorting is less risky than injection in terms of infectious disease transmission, it still carries significant health risks, including damage to nasal tissues and the risk of overdose.

Smoking Heroin

Heroin can be smoked on foil (chasing the dragon), which involves inhaling the vapors. This method also quickly delivers the drug to the brain but is slightly less immediate than injection. Smoking heroin can lead to respiratory issues and still carries a high risk of addiction and overdose.

What Are Common Signs of Heroin Abuse?

If you are worried that someone you love is abusing heroin, look out for these common signs:

  • Physical symptoms: Look out for track marks on the arms or legs from injection, as well as weight loss, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in behavior: Heroin use can cause changes in behavior and mood, such as irritability, agitation, and frequent mood swings.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: As the addiction takes hold, a person may start to neglect their work, school, or family obligations.
  • Financial and legal problems: Heroin is an expensive drug and people may resort to stealing or other illegal activities to acquire it.
  • Social isolation: A person struggling with heroin abuse may isolate themselves from friends and family to hide their addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, it’s important to understand the warning signs and seek help immediately.

Other signs of heroin abuse include:

  • Needles or syringes are commonly used to inject heroin.
  • Lighters and candles are used to heat heroin before injecting or smoking it.
  • Spoons used to heat and dissolve heroin in water may have burn marks on the bottom.
  • Cotton balls filter out impurities when drawing heroin into a syringe and may contain residue.
  • Tin foil is used to smoke heroin when shaped into a makeshift bowl or flat surface and held over an open flame.
  • Straws or hollowed-out pens are used for snorting heroin.
  • Rubber tubing or belts act as a tourniquet to enlarge veins for easier injection.
  • Small plastic bags or balloons are used to package heroin.

Recognizing these paraphernalia can be crucial in identifying heroin use. Each method of use carries risks and health implications, but intravenous use is notably the most dangerous due to the immediacy of its effects and the additional risks associated with needle use.

What Is Heroin Treatment Like?

Treatment for heroin addiction starts with detox. It’s crucial to have all of the drugs out of your system for treatment to be successful. This stage can be challenging due to withdrawal symptoms, which may include nausea, sweating, shaking, and intense cravings. This is why heroin treatment centers provide around-the-clock care and supervision it often takes place with medical professionals close by.

Heroin treatment is personalized and can vary in length, often depending on the severity of the addiction, the individual’s health, and their support system. The goal is not only to stop heroin use but also to improve the individual’s ability to function in their daily life, including restoring relationships, employment, and overall health. Through the use of evidence-based and holistic treatment, our Orange County rehab center can help you reach a brighter future.

Medications for Heroin Addiction

To ensure the person’s safety, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may also be used to ease heroin withdrawal symptoms and cravings. MAT programs incorporate FDA-approved medications to assist in the treatment of heroin.

FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorders include:

  • Methadone: A long-acting opioid that helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing the high associated with heroin use.
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex): Reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It has a lower risk of abuse compared to methadone.
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol): Blocks the effects of opioids at the receptor level, helping to prevent relapse. It does not have addictive properties.

Medication is a highly effective component of heroin treatment that lessens or removes the physical distractions related to heroin withdrawal making it easier for individuals to stay on track with their recovery.

Addiction Counseling for Heroin Addiction 

Another vital component of heroin treatment is counseling. Various forms of drug addiction counseling and therapy are crucial in heroin treatment, addressing the psychological aspects of addiction. 

Addiction counseling and therapy services may include:

  • Individual Therapy: One-on-one counseling sessions with changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to heroin use.
  • Group Therapy: Provides a supportive environment where individuals can learn from others who are going through similar experiences. 
  • Family therapy: Involves family members in the treatment process to improve communication, address family dynamics, and provide support.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Helps individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to drug use.
  • Contingency Management (CM): Uses incentives to encourage sobriety.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Increases motivation to change behavior and engage in treatment.
  • Psychoeducation: Provides education on addiction and strategies for managing triggers and cravings.
  • Support groups: Offer ongoing support and a sense of community with others in recovery.

Counseling can also help individuals deal with underlying issues that may have contributed to addiction, such as trauma, mental health disorders, or relationship problems. By addressing these issues, individuals can learn healthier ways of coping and reduce their risk of relapse.

In addition to traditional therapy services, some treatment programs may offer alternative forms of therapy such as art therapy, music therapy, or mindfulness practices. These approaches allow individuals to work directly with their therapist to address personal issues and develop coping strategies.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Options at South Coast Behavioral Health

If you found heroin track marks on your loved one, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. At SCBH, we provide effective treatment for heroin that transitions individuals through different levels of care. 

Our comprehensive programs include:

  • Heroin detox 
  • Residential treatment 
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Intensive outpatient

Each SCBH treatment center provides beneficial services to help our clients recover from heroin addiction and begin their new life in recovery.

Heroin Detox in California

The first step in treating their addiction is a medical detox. This means a detox aided by drugs to manage heroin withdrawal symptoms. Our medical detox program in California is staffed by caring and compassionate professionals who can provide you with medications to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

At South Coast, we take pride in offering care that is closely tailored to specific issues. To that end, we offer gender-specific detox programs, with medical detox for men in Irvine, CA, and medical detox for women in Huntington Beach, CA.

After detoxing, proper treatment can begin.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

Residential Treatment in California

After completing medical detox, you’ll receive inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time. Inpatient rehab is one of the more comprehensive and intensive programming options.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for several hours each day, returning to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours. IOP and other outpatient programs are key to learning new skills for relapse prevention.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

Start Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction but have questions about the process, call us at 888-521-4134 or contact us here. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea of what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline, verify your insurance, and assist with any other questions you may have.


Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT