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How to Spot Meth Paraphernalia & Signs of Addiction

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Drugs are incredibly strong these days, but few of them are more volatile than the stimulant drug methamphetamine. Created in make-shift “labs,” methamphetamine (crystal, meth, ice, glass, crank) is a Frankenstein-style drug made from the volatile chemicals found in batteries, fertilizer and engine starter. It can be smoked, injected or snorted, and can cause psychosis, strokes, coma and death.

Today’s teens are exposed to meth more than ever before, thanks its acceptance as a cheap “party drug.” Everything about crystal screams “deadly,” so it’s critical to be both educated and aware.

What Is Meth (Methamphetamine) Paraphernalia?

Drug paraphernalia is any equipment used to produce, consume, and conceal illicit drugs. Identifying paraphernalia can be a challenge, as many of these products are marketed as items for some legitimate purpose. As such, to recognize paraphernalia, a person needs to look at the context and the manner in which an item has been used or sold.1

When it comes to meth paraphernalia, there are several items you might need to look out for if you believe a loved one is dealing with meth addiction, depending on the intake method. Meth can be snorted, smoked, ingested, or injected.2 Depending on that, you might find this paraphernalia:3

  • Spoons are used for cooking meth by placing powdered methamphetamine in it and heating it with a lighter or some other flame source. You might recognize them by the burn marks.
  • Lighters are also a common sign of someone burning meth when in the presence of other tools.
  • Loose razor blades might be used to cut meth into lines before snorting.
  • Mirrors with straight scratch marks usually mean that a person used it as a chopping board for meth.
  • Straws or hollowed ballpoint pens can be used for snorting meth.
  • Bongs are commonly used to smoke marijuana but also meth. 
  • Additional shoelaces, an elastic lanyard, or a hairband might be used to plump up veins before injecting.

Common Meth (Methamphetamine) Paraphernalia

If you find any of the following paraphernalia, it’s time to talk to your teen about meth:

Glass and Home-Made Meth Pipes

  • Glass pipes can differ in design, but meth pipes are typically long, glass cylinders with rounded, bulbous ends.
  • A used pipe has black burn marks on the underside of the end.
  • Meth leaves a waxy, yellowish residue in the pipe after being smoked.
  • Light bulbs are a popular make-shift smoking solution. Teens empty the inner working parts and use the bulb as a smoking device. (Light bulbs show the same burn marks and residue.)

Meth Tin Foil and Aluminum Cans

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  • Multiple pieces of creased of tin foil can indicate meth abuse. Users place meth in the crease, heat the foil (to evaporate the drug) and inhale the smoke.
  • Similarly, users make indentations in aluminum cans and poke pin-sized holes. They place meth in the indentation and inhale the smoke through the opening of the can.
  • If you find blackened foils or suspicious cans, it’s vital to confront your child.

Cut Straws and Empty Ink Pens

  • Cut straws and empty ink pens are the preferred means of snorting meth.
  • Meth does not easily stick the plastic material, unlike a rolled-up dollar bill or other form of paper.
  • Cut straws and hollowed plastic pens are also popular inhalation devices when smoking meth using tin foil.

Needles and Syringes

  • If your teen has no medical reason to possess hypodermic needles, finding this type of paraphernalia requires immediate action.
  • Finding needles generally indicates a teen is shooting either meth or heroin, both incredibly dangerous practices.
  • Shooting meth is a chemical onslaught to the bloodstream, posing the highest potential for an overdose.
  • The practice of using needles also comes with its own dangers, such as contracting HIV or hepatitis through needle sharing.

Sandwich Baggies

  • Meth is typically packaged in small plastic bags or baggies made from cutting the corners of larger sandwich bags.
  • Residue seen inside the corners of baggies may appear as a crystalline powder, with an off-white or light brownish hue, or as chunky pieces of clear, broken glass known as shards.
  • Even a tiny amount of residue can be used to perform a drug addiction test (available for sale at stores like Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s), helping you positively identify the presence of crystal meth.

How to Tell if Someone Is Using Meth?

One way to know if someone is using meth is to see whether you can find drug paraphernalia. However, paraphernalia alone might not be a clear indication that your loved one is struggling with meth addiction. However, when combined with some other signs, they can indicate drug misuse.1

Meth can cause similar effects as cocaine, but the consequences can last longer. Meth symptoms may include:4 

  • Violent and erratic behavior.
  • Unpredictable behavior.
  • Mood swings.
  • Suppressed appetite.
  • Insomnia.
  • Convulsions and tremor.

Users might also experience some consequences that aren’t that noticeable, such as irregular heart rate and increased blood pressure. They might also have increased suicidal or homicidal thoughts, anxiety, or paranoia.4

Meth can also cause brain damage, with effects similar to those experienced by people who struggle with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Users will also struggle with formication, experiencing a feeling of bugs crawling on the skin. Finally, meth can also lead to coma, stroke, or death. 

Some of the noticeable meth symptoms may include:4

  • Significant weight loss.
  • Tooth and gum decay (“meth mouth”).
  • Hallucinations.
  • Psychosis.
  • Red sores on the body and face from skin picking.

How to Approach a Loved One After Finding Drug Paraphernalia in Their Possession?

If you’re afraid that your loved one is abusing drugs, especially meth, you need to be mindful of how you approach them. This is because of stigma and discrimination against people with substance abuse disorder. Struggling individuals may fear that people will look at them as they’re someone who failed morally, instead of someone suffering from a chronic, relapsing disorder that is treatable.5

People who feel as if you’re judging or stigmatizing them are less likely to seek treatment for their SUD willingly. This is why it’s important not to use stigmatizing language and to approach the person as calmly as possible, without judgment or accusations.5

When approaching your loved one, you need to act with care. Here are some tips that might be useful:7

  • Don’t judge. Instead, keep an open mind and let your loved one know you understand them.
  • Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. What type of approach would you prefer? Try to communicate in the way you’d like other people to communicate with you.
  • Set a goal and work on getting what you need from the conversation instead of talking in circles.
  • Stay calm. If you try to approach anyone with anger or shame, it won’t be productive. Instead, try to be curious and full of understanding.
  • Don’t lecture. This will only cause them to shut down.
  • Try to make it seem as if the conversation is spontaneous
  • Be mindful of your body language. Try to appear relaxed and open.

Learn more about methamphetamine addiction and available treatment options.

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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