Drug Treatment – The Truth About Gateway Drugs

The term “gateway drugs” has been coined to suggest that the use of certain drugs or substances leads to addiction and abuse of harder substances. Whether this is a myth or a fact is difficult to determine. However, awareness of this likelihood can help with drug treatment of addicts. The three most commonly suggested gateway drugs are marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes. These three substances are readily available to our youth. In themselves they are subject to abuse and do become addictive. Examining what they represent and how this may lead to more dangerous addictions can determine what treatment the individual needs for recovery.

Cigarettes are easily obtained, legal, and socially acceptable. For some underage children, smoking represents rebellion against adults and authority. The temporary relief that nicotine gives from a difficult situation may be the first experience of using a substance to change inner turmoil. Once addicted to the feeling that floods the body when nicotine enters the bloodstream, it is more likely that a smoker will be interested in experiencing other substances.

It is difficult to prove that drinking alcohol is a “gateway drug”. The environment plays an important part in determining whether someone will progress to harder drugs through drinking alcohol. The dangerous situations arise because alcohol is readily available and also socially acceptable, and drinking releases inhibitions. A drunk person is much more likely to try something new and be influenced by others. Some people are risk takers and will experiment with various drugs while under the influence of alcohol, encouraging others to follow. This behavior begins as a way to feel popular and attractive, however, the experience is a temporary one, and the after effects are dismal and depressing. Drug addiction and abuse will result when the desired effects are not achieved; the subsequent highs need to be stronger or more frequent. Alcohol can put a person in a vulnerable position, where drinks are spiked, and dangerous drugs are introduced. By the time a person has come to rehab for treatment, alcohol may be the least evil of the drugs she is addicted to.

Marijuana is the classic “gateway drug” and many believe that once someone has smoked marijuana, they are easily led into harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Marijuana has an association with rebellion and freedom and a feeling of belonging to a group. This entices young people and they are then exposed to more dangerous drugs. Many marijuana smokers are very opposed to chemical drugs, however, because it is illegal in many, young people are immediately drawn into the criminal world with the act of smoking. This makes them more likely to come into contact with other illicit drugs.

These three are traditionally considered as “gateway drugs”, but in our modern times there are drugs such as Ritalin or Xanax that seem to be creating the possibilities for addiction and abuse of prescription drugs. In our treatment of addicts, we have to look at the underlying causes for addictions.

The fact is: most hard drug addicts use and abuse two or more of these drugs. The myth is: if you use any of these you will become a hard drug addict.