Gateway Drugs and Your Teen

The gateway drug theory suggests that the use of certain illicit substances can lead to use of more dangerous drugs in the future. This is a commonly accepted fact in American culture and does have some evidence to back its claims, but you may be surprised to learn that not everyone agrees about the validity of this phenomenon. When thinking about gateway drugs and how they relate to your teen, it’s important that you stay as informed as possible and understand both sides to this issue.

Commonly Cited Gateway Drugs

The substance most commonly referred to as a gateway drug is marijuana. It’s typically thought of as a “soft” drug with a low potential for addiction, but some studies indicate that it can lead to experimentation with “hard” drugs like heroin, cocaine, or meth. Most users of hard drugs report using marijuana previously, and therefore a causal link has been inferred between the two.

Alcohol and tobacco are also frequently referred to as gateway drugs—in fact, they are often thought of as precursors to marijuana use. According to a surveys conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, alcohol drinkers are much more likely to use illicit substances. Specifically, they are more than 25 times more likely to use cocaine, 14 times more likely to use marijuana, and 13 times more likely to use psychedelics such as LSD or mushrooms.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, two thirds of all drug users also smoke tobacco on a regular basis—this is more than triple the average for other demographics.

Problems with the Gateway Drug Theory

Despite its popularity, the gateway drug theory is not without criticism. For example, some argue that the reason teens are more likely to try marijuana before progressing to harder drugs is because it’s much easier to obtain than others. Additionally, it’s also possible that it’s mere coincidence certain teens try marijuana initially—they may be willing to try anything, and it’s simply the first thing they’re offered.

Finally, many of the unhelpful and untrue (but well-intentioned) scare tactics surrounding marijuana use prevention could be lending to its designation as a gateway drug. When teens begin using marijuana, they realize that its risks may have been exaggerated, which leads them to the conclusion that all negative information about all drugs is similarly exaggerated as well.