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Do Gateway Drugs Exist?

A gateway drug is a mild habit-forming drug that can lead to other harder, more addictive drugs. For instance, many people believe that alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana are all gateway drugs. The term gateway drug was coined in the 1970s and popular back in the 1980s during the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) era.

Cross-sensitization is a process where the effects of one drug may enhance an individual’s experience with a second different drug. This explains why people who use nicotine, marijuana, or alcohol may be susceptible to try harder drugs after they’ve had repeated exposure to these milder substances.

Do Gateway Drugs Exist?

What is a Gateway Drug?

Nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana all increase levels of dopamine in the brain, which causes pleasure. This dopamine boost causes the brain to release less dopamine as time goes on, leading people to seek harder and more addictive drugs. This is known as the gateway drug theory.

More About Gateway Drug Theory

There is a bit of controversy when it comes to gateway drugs and whether they exist. The research shows that they do; alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana do seem to lead people to harder illicit drugs. However, there are other risk factors involved in what influences a person using illicit drugs (depression, social life, history of abuse, genetics, and environment).

What are Some Gateway Drugs?

Studies show that using gateway drugs is 266 times more likely to incur an addiction to cocaine. Nearly 90 percent of people that use cocaine have tried alcohol, nicotine, or marijuana first. Other statistics show that about 45 percent of people who use marijuana will eventually use a harder drug like heroin or cocaine later on in life. Also, teens who drink are six times more likely to develop a cocaine addiction. And teens who use nicotine before the age of 15 are nearly 80 times more likely to use illicit drugs. As stated above, other factors come into play here, like genetics and a history of mental illness.

Does Marijuana Lead to The Use of Stronger Drugs?

Other studies have shown that kids who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine, and kids that drink alcohol are 50 times more likely to use the illegal substance. Also, children who use marijuana are 17 times more likely to be regular cocaine users than adults. And marijuana use is strongly associated with a person developing alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder.

With the studies and research currently available, it appears that nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana use cause people to move on to harder and more addictive illegal drugs, especially in adolescents. Despite the controversy that surrounds this issue, the statistics don’t lie.

What is a Gateway Hypothesis?

The National Institute of Health, “Gateway Hypothesis” and early drug use: Additional findings from tracking a population-based sample of adolescents to adulthood says:

The concept of “gateway hypothesis” has been studied since the 1970s (Kandel, 1975, Kandel and Faust, 1975) as the theory suggests that an adolescent’s early experimentation with alcohol or tobacco or cannabis escalates to more addictive illicit drugs later in adulthood (Lynskey et al., 2003). Most commonly used illicit substances include heroin/opioids, cocaine and or amphetamines, and their designer drug analogs, considered illegal by the criminal justice system in the United States and other jurisdictions. Early onset of drug experimentation has been elaborated and characterized in distinct pathways in the substance abuse and dependence literature. Overall, the theory has had mixed results showing both a link or sequence of licit drug use to illicit drug use (Guxens et al., 2007, Guxens et al., 2007, Korhoene et al., 2010, Lessem et al., 2006, Mayet et al., 2012) and no association (Mackesy-Amiti et al., 1997, Golub and Johnson, 1994). (N.I.H.)

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