Teens and meth
Ellie McCann, Extension Educator — Family Development
Revised June 2017 by author. Reviewed on same date by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science.
Methamphetamine (meth) is a substance that is derived from amphetamine and is a stimulant that strongly affects the central nervous system. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested orally. It is available in many forms such as powder, ice, and tablets with a variety of street names including: ice, crystal meth, chalk, sketch, yellow powder, poor man’s cocaine, speed, go-fast, and glass. Methamphetamine use typically starts during the teen years. According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, methamphetamine use in recent years has dropped among teens. However, the possibility of harsh behavioral, social, and physical consequences and meth’s severe potency keep it as a concern among many communities. Parents have a critical role in communicating with their teen about the use of meth.
The majority of the labs that create meth are found in rural or semi-rural areas, but meth is also gaining popularity as a club drug in cities. In a meth lab, you may find jars with tubing attached and a collection of ingredients including cold medicines, anti-freeze, acetone, lantern fuel, paint thinner, drain cleaner, and battery acid. There are numerous materials and ingredients that can be used to produce meth, but the physical space required for production is quite small. Meth can be produced in the trunk of a car or even in a purse which makes it portable and easy to store. Meth labs have also been found in hotel rooms, car washes, apartments, and storage garages. Each of these drug labs has the potential to become a hazardous waste site putting anyone who comes in contact with these areas at risk.
On the Farm
Anhydrous ammonia is another ingredient that can be used to produce meth. Anhydrous is not available to most meth producers, so it is often stolen from tanks on a farm. It is typically stored as a gas so it can be drained into a propane tank. These tanks are not suspicious looking since they are the type that typically attach to backyard grills. The valves may become bluish-green if they have been used to store or transport anhydrous.
‘I could give it a try!’
Teens need to develop healthy ways of taking risks. If they do not have a good understanding of boundaries, they may think it is okay to experiment with drugs such as meth, not fully realizing the potential hazardous effects.
Meth use among teens typically starts with casual use. Because of the pattern of rush and crash that develops from meth use, users may quickly become addicted. The rush period begins immediately after the user has smoked or injected meth. This rush, which can be described as euphoric, will only last for a few minutes, but the high that follows will last for 4 to 16 hours. Following this high, a user will crash, feeling overwhelmingly low. During this period, a feeling of depression can be unbearable. This often leads to the decision to use meth again. It is possible to get addicted to meth with the first use.
Possible Signs of Meth Use
- Heightened noise sensitivity
- Increased aggression
- Nervous physical behaviors
- Anorexia or severe lack of appetite
- Tremors and/or convulsions
- Feelings of disorder
- Disconnected thoughts
- Feelings of depression
- Extreme lack of energy
- Irritable and suspicious behavior
- Hallucinations or delusions
Parents Can Make a Difference!
The likelihood of substance use by teens is much lower when parents learn the facts and risks about drugs and have frequent conversations with their teen about them. Remember, the most successful conversations between parent and teen should focus on information that is most important to the teen.
Why Meth Might Appeal to Your Teen
- Teens who are concerned about their weight may use meth because they have heard it can help control their weight.
- Teens who are involved in physical activities may use meth because they have heard that it can increase their endurance.
- Teens that are sexually active may use meth because they have heard that it can heighten their sexual desire or activity.
What Should Parents Do?
Be involved with your teen’s activities, friends, and other important adults in their lives. Being informed and monitoring your teen’s relationships and behaviors will help you distinguish between possible signs of drug use and typical changes in behavior.
Teens need clear expectations. When parents consistently follow through with rules and consequences for behavior, teens will learn that they are accountable for their choices.
Discuss with teens what is happening in their world. If a teen can feel secure within the family and comfortable sharing their opinions, they are less likely to give in to pressure from friends.
Combine the realities of her world with the information you have to help guide relevant and useful conversations. If you don’t know the answer to her question, help your teen find the answer. Deciding whether or not you share your own experiences with drug use is a personal choice. Either way, face-to-face conversations are critical.
Create a Plan Together
Part of keeping your teen safe involves creating a plan together for them to get out of a risky situation. You may tell your teen to use you as an excuse to get out of a situation and tell them it’s alright to reply with, “I can’t — my mom would kill me if she found out!”
Or you can talk through the concept of the X-plan. This plan involves using a secret code, such as an “X”, that your teen can text you as their parent or another trusted adult. When the receiver gets the text, they call the teen’s phone and tell them something like, “Something has come up and I need to pick you up right now.” The key is, when they are picked up, there are no questions asked. It’s much more important to keep them safe than to know what happened. For more details, see Keeping Teens Safe: The Village Approach.
Model the values and behaviors that you hold important for your family. Modeling may not seem immediately effective, but it will have a lasting impact on the values your teen develops and the choices he makes about drug use.
CRC Health. (2015). Methamphetamine use among youth.
Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2017). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2016: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use (PDF). Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
Minnesota Department of Health. (2015). Methamphetamine and Meth Labs.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). DrugFacts: Methamphetamine. National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Relax Mom, It’s Only Pot! — Recognize that your child is very likely being exposed to drugs, and talk to them about the risks.
Downloadable Parent Resources — Partnership for Drug-Free Kids — Find free informational eBook downloads, fact sheets, infographics, and more to help you care for loved ones who may be struggling with substance abuse.