Gateway Drugs and Addiction

Dr. Purushothaman
September 1, 2013

The idea that the use of one "lesser" drug can lead to abuse of and ultimately addiction to more serious drugs is one that has long been postulated by many in the field of addiction and alcoholism. Some have even gone so far as to theorize that non-dangerous addictions like video game and computer addiction, addiction to caffeine, and sex and gambling addictions act as gateway addictions to dangerous substances like crack, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines. And while the correlations between use of different drugs seem to be striking, data related to gateway drugs is based upon a great deal of assumptions that generally have no place in clinical studies. Whether the gateway phenomena exists is perhaps a mute point the real issue here is probably more likely this: if a person starts using and becomes addicted to lesser substances, then there is still time to save them from migrating to harder drugs and therefore education about so-called gateway drug use is critical.

According to Drug Watch International:

". . . if alcohol and tobacco were new products seeking FDA clearance today, each would likely be rejected as hazardous and addictive." (Drug Watch International Alcohol and Tobacco: Two Dangerous Gateway Drugs)

This statement is likely accurate, however, it doesn't serve to bolster the case for gateway drugs. This is because if alcohol and tobacco are the only legal and therefore easily available drugs, then it makes sense that these will be the first types of drugs children, teens and young adults will be exposed to. However, exposure to these drugs could easily lead to addiction or alcoholism and arguments that "once a person is an addict, they will always be an addict" come into play from a logical standpoint. Nevertheless, little clinical evidence has indicated this to be factual.

A more plausible explanation might be that some people are genetically, environmentally or situationally predisposed to experiment with and possibly become addicted to illicit substances of any type. For instance, imagine a child who rides a tricycle as a toddler. If they then progress to a full-size bicycle, then to jumping dirt bikes and ATVs, does this mean that riding a tricycle is a gateway to any of these other, more dangerous activities? Not necessarily â€" it all depends upon the individual. Some children love riding a tricycle or bicycle so much that they stimulate the pleasure and reward center in their brain, which in turn triggers a release of the feel-good chemical dopamine, which in turn leads to long-term seeking out of the behavior that caused the "reward" stimulation.

Therefore, it seems more logical to argue that gateway drugs are less of a reality and that gateway addiction or predispositions are more reasonable. In fact, some credible studies have produced convincing evidence to this effect. Andrew Morral, associate director of RAND's Public Safety and Justice Unit and lead author of the [mathematical model of gateway drugs] study stated:

"We've shown that the marijuana gateway effect is not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs An alternative, simpler and more compelling explanation accounts for the pattern of drug use you see in this country, without resort to any gateway effects. While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified." (Wikipedia Gateway Drug Theory)

If you've been experimenting with any kind of drug or you fear you have become addicted, there is no evidence to suggest that you're doomed to progress to harder and more dangerous substances. Addiction is a disease that knows no bounds â€" the only gateway is the human body and mind. If you want to stop using, pick up the phone right now and call a professional drug treatment center now. Chances are that someone can help you right now, no matter what time it is, how far away you are or how bad your problem is. There is always still hope.

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