Certain substances have, for a long time, been considered to be gateway drugs. These substances are believed to lead to harder drug abuse in those who use them frequently, especially at a young age. Some of the drugs most often considered to be gateway drugs are marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine.
These three substances can all cause addiction and dependence but are not considered to be as dangerous as illicit drugs like heroin, meth, cocaine, etc. However, everyone from parents to government officials have warned teens of the risk of using these substances, saying their use is a slippery slope to more dangerous drug abuse. In recent years, many people have begun to abuse prescription drugs like opioids, benzodiazepines, sleep medications, and stimulants, and this type of abuse has been considered a gateway as well. For example, one who abuses stimulants may be more likely to turn to cocaine if they begin to experience a tolerance for the drug’s effects.
Though these beliefs have existed since the early 1970s, many studies have tried—and failed—to prove that gateway drugs are real. Most studies did not include the variables that are most often associated with addiction such as environment, biology, and development, and others were simply inconclusive. As of now, we have no clear indication that so-called gateway drugs actually lead to harder substance abuse. Still, all the drugs listed above have their own potential for causing addiction, which means users should always be careful when engaging in any type of substance abuse. If you or someone you love struggles with a substance use disorder, contact Addictions.com to find a treatment program that meets your needs.