What is a Collapsed Vein and How Does It Happen?
Living with drug and alcohol addiction can affect your mental and physical health. It can strain your most important relationships, limit your opportunities, and cause you to get stuck in a destructive pattern of substance abuse that may become life-threatening.
Some consequences of your substance abuse and addiction may linger long after you get help to overcome it. A collapsed vein is one long-term outcome of some types of substance abuse.
If you or someone you love requires addiction treatment, contact the New Jersey Addiction Intervention staff to explore our supportive programs or find support during recovery.
What is a Collapsed Vein?
A collapsed vein is an injury that may occur when people inject drugs repeatedly. This injury develops over time and many repeated injections into the same vein.
A collapsed vein does not allow blood to flow through it. People who use the same vein to inject drugs will no longer be able to use that site and will not be able to have blood drawn from that vein.
Collapsed veins are a permanent condition, but they do not cause long-term harm. However, having a collapsed vein often means that your substance use is no longer in your control and that you must seek treatment to avoid potentially life-threatening consequences.
How Does a Collapsed Vein Happen?
A collapsed vein occurs when scar tissue builds up inside a vein after repeated injections. People who inject drugs into the same vein over and over are likely to experience a collapsed vein.
Some of the things that make a collapsed vein more likely to occur include:
- Using old or blunt needles
- Using syringes that are too large
- Poor injection techniques (such as injecting in the same place over and over, preventing the vein from being able to heal)
- Irritation from drugs or contaminants
A collapsed vein occurs in stages. First, the inside of a vein becomes irritated from the injection. Next, blood clots form at the injection site. As the vein narrows, clots form more quickly. Finally, scar tissue forms inside the vein, causing the walls to heal shut and block blood flow altogether.
Signs of a Collapsed Vein
It’s not usually possible to identify a collapsed vein by looking at a person’s skin. Bruising may occur at the injection site at the time someone injects drugs, but the collapsed vein does not necessarily cause bruising. Blown veins–meaning the needle has pierced through both walls of the vein, usually causes significant bruising as blood flows out of the vein. A blown vein and a collapsed vein are two very different conditions.
Here are some of the ways you can identify a collapsed vein.
No blood flow
If you try to inject into a collapsed vein, you will be unable to draw blood out. A collapsed vein is blocked by scar tissue, meaning blood can no longer pass through it. It will be challenging or impossible to find the vein.
Because blood cannot pass through a collapsed vein, some people may experience symptoms of poor circulation in that area. Symptoms can include:
- A cold sensation
These symptoms indicate that blood is not flowing freely to an area of the body.
Your body sends blood to areas of the body that are hurt or inflamed. Because blood can no longer pass through a collapsed vein, you may experience slower healing in that area. This means that sores and ulcers in that part of your body may last significantly longer than usual, and you may be at increased risk of infection.
What is the Treatment for a Collapsed Vein?
Nothing can heal a collapsed vein. Once a vein has collapsed, it will remain that way for the rest of your life. Your body will adapt to the collapsed vein by sending blood through other veins, but you may have symptoms of poor circulation that remain for life.
You can manage discomfort and other symptoms of a collapsed vein and promote healing in the area surrounding the vein by taking these steps:
- Take Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain
- Keep the site clean to avoid infection until your skin heals
- Do not attempt to inject into that vein or the surrounding area
- Consult with a doctor if the area becomes itchy, swollen, or red to see if antibiotics are needed
You cannot heal a collapsed vein, but you can take steps to address your substance use and prevent further damage.
Can Substance Abuse Treatment Help a Collapsed Vein?
Collapsed veins can heal, but they do not recover blood flow. Your body will adapt to the collapsed vein by routing blood flow through other veins. Swelling in the area will eventually subside, and scabs and bruising will heal. However, the scar tissue that has accumulated inside your vein will remain, causing blood flow in the vein to be limited for the rest of your life.
While substance abuse treatment can’t heal a collapsed vein, it can help you identify the complex physical, emotional, and behavioral roots of your addiction. Substance abuse treatment plans typically include therapies that can help your body and mind heal, including:
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Family counseling
- Relapse prevention education
- Mental health treatment
- Exercise, nutrition therapy, recreation, yoga, and other holistic practices
When you understand how your substance abuse developed and learn to manage the symptoms of your addiction, you have a better chance of avoiding relapse and living a healthier, sober lifestyle.
Get Help Now
If you or someone you love need help addressing substance use and addiction, reach out to the New Jersey Addiction Interventions team today. The help and support you need are just a phone call away. Get the treatment you need to heal and work toward a healthier, more fulfilling, sober future.
Medically Reviewed: July 12, 2023
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.