The Parents’ Guide To Drug Paraphernalia

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to realize their teen or preteen is abusing substances. Whether the teen’s substance of abuse is alcohol or cocaine, the causes for concern are numerous and range from the effect that substance abuse can have on academic performance and his or her future to the risk that substance abuse can pose to his or her health and life. Unfortunately, internet access has made it easier for teens to find more effective ways to conceal their indiscretions, but there are still a number of ways that parents can keep an eye peeled for potentially lethal behaviors. As such, a reliable indicator of teen substance abuse is having certain drug paraphernalia among his or her possessions.

A Parent’s Guide to Paraphernalia from Delphi Health Group on Vimeo.

What Exactly Is Drug Paraphernalia?

Since it’s becoming increasingly difficult to detect substance abuse by observing adolescents’ behaviors alone, it’s important for parents to be aware of the variety of material evidence that is indicative of a drug problem. Drug paraphernalia is the term used to refer to a variety of materials that pertain to the use and abuse of various illicit substances. There are several different types of items that are considered to be drug paraphernalia, including baggies or any sort of container that’s used to store and transport illicit substances, a variety of tools that can be used to prepare a drug for consumption, tools that are required in order to do or take a substance, and so on. However, while there might be much variety in the drug paraphernalia that exists, there are certain items that are especially common and can reliably be interpreted as indicative of substance abuse.

Pipes, Bowls & Bongs

Most would consider pipes and bowls to be the most common type of drug paraphernalia by a pretty significant margin. Although one might see such an item and associate it with smoking tobacco, they’re also a staple item for the smoking of marijuana. However, other drugs can be imbibed by using a pipe as well, including hash, cocaine and crack cocaine, and heroin. Moreover, there’s much variation in the pipes that can be used to do drugs; they come in many different sizes, a variety of shapes, and there are even special pipes that have chambers to hold water — called “bongs” or water pipes — that’s mean to make drugs easier to smoke. This is why it can be difficult to tell the difference between what a crack pipe looks like versus a weed pipe. Not only is this type of drug paraphernalia a pretty telling sign of the use of certain drugs, but the process of smoking drugs usually produces a pretty unusual odor and telling smoke.


When an adolescent or teen is in possession of portable scales, it’s very likely that he or she is engaging in recreational substance abuse. Virtually any street drug is weighed before being sold to a substance user; both the individual selling the drug and the one buying it would want to ensure that he or she is not selling/buying more/less than is deserved. Digital scales are usually about the size of a smartphone and, in fact, might even be designed to purposely resemble a cell phone as a means of camouflage. Alternately, there are so-called “hand scales” that consist of a metal contraption that one holds by hand in order to take a manual reading from its gauge.


The small, sandwich-sized baggies found in any grocery store are commonly used as a container for various illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, prescription painkillers, and many other substances. They’re inexpensive, readily available, and they’re intended to be discreet; however, adolescents and teens who are frequently found to have empty baggies in their pockets or bags will likely have been using them as a disposable containers for some mind-altering substance. It’s also common for individuals to condense a substance into the corner of a baggie, secure it with a knot, and tear that knotted corner off the rest of the baggie, which can be discarded and concealed easier than a whole sandwich baggie. Alternately, it’s become common for drug dealers to purchase exceptionally small baggies for the express purpose of selling dose-sized quantities in appropriately-sized yet secure baggies.


For most substances, there’s more than one route of administration. In particular, cocaine can either be insufflated or snorted through the nose, when it’s in powdered form. Alternately, there’s a freebase form of cocaine, which requires the drug to be solid so that it can be placed on a piece of foil with heat being applied from the underside of the foil. As the cocaine begins to smoke, the user puts their face near to the foil and inhales. Therefore, users who freebase illicit drugs will often have napkin-sized pieces of aluminum foil in their possession; more often than not, the foil will be charred from the flame of a lighter.

Cards, Straws & Mirrors

When someone is taking drugs that either come in a powdered form or can be reduced to a powdered form, they’ll often need to carry certain tools that will ensure they’re able to imbibe drugs when they obtain them. For powdered substances, this typically entails credit cards, gift cards, or other types of cards that are used to crush or chop drugs; mirrors or other reflective surfaces on which the drugs can be prepared for consumption, and straws that are used to inhale the drug through the nostrils. Oftentimes these items will have a powdery residue on them.

Syringes & Burnt Spoons

Intravenous drug use is arguably the most dangerous route of administration as it makes individuals more vulnerable to blood-borne illnesses that can be contracted from other users. Those who take drugs intravenously will need two tools that are essential to intravenous administration: hypodermic syringes and spoons. The latter serves the purpose of providing a contained surface on which an individual can prepare a drug solution consisting of the illicit substance and water, which is loaded into the syringe and injected into the bloodstream. In most cases, the underside of a user’s spoon will be charred from repeated exposure to the flame of his or her lighter as applying heat to a drug solution is frequently part of the preparation process. Some of the more common intravenous drugs include heroin, DMT, and crystal meth.

Belts & Laces

After preparing a drug for intravenous administration, a user will need some way to create a tourniquet for the location at which they intend to inject the drug, which is usually an arm but can also be done in countless other places across the body. Since most individuals won’t have actual tourniquets, they’ll use things that are accessible and convenient, including shoelaces and belts. As such, intravenous drug users will frequently have long laces or belts in their possession or even on their person that may be knotted in many places and never seem to be used for their intended purposes.

Glass Tubes & Steel Wool

Users of crack cocaine and crystal meth require certain supplies in order to smoke their drugs. The most common tools for smoking such drugs are small glass tubes and steel wool. Many convenience stores sell miniaturized fake roses in pencil-sized glass tubes, which are one of the most common solutions for smoking drugs and also happen to be inexpensive and readily available. Additionally, users will require a small, marble-sized piece of steel wool to stuff into one end of the glass tube. Oftentimes a tube used for such purposes will have white residue along its inside and lots of black char on the end holding the steel wool.

Find Peace and Health at the Palm Beach Institute

There are many substances to which a person can become addicted. While some are certainly more dangerous than others, there’s no such thing as a drug that’s “safe” to use. Substance abuse is a very slippery slope. Nobody ever intends to become addicted, but abusing addictive, mind-altering substances is a behavior that quickly spirals out of one’s control. If you or someone you love would like to learn more about drug paraphernalia or addiction recovery, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call us today at (866) 804-6507 for a free consultation and assessment. Don’t become another casualty of this deadly disease. Begin the journey toward a life of lasting health and happiness with just one phone call.

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