Other Inquiries:


What are Gateway Drugs? Are they Dangerous?

Cigarette in an ashtray on a wooden tableYou may have heard about gateways drugs on the news or at school as a child. Still, friends and family of those struggling with addiction (or those at risk of addiction) oftentimes ask us about gateway drugs. They not only wonder what a gateway drug actually is, but also ask about whether they are a real risk to the average person.

This is an understandable concern. You often hear about ‘gateway drugs’ in school programs and prevention commercials, but few understand exactly what role they can play in the development of addiction.

Let’s discuss the details of gateway drugs.

Gateway Drug Theory

Gateway drug theory is the idea that people who engage in recreational drug use (legal or not) are at a higher risk of subsequently using other illicit drugs.

It is thought that an adolescent or young adult who uses one drug is more likely to use other drugs later on.

The drugs that are often considered “gateway” include alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. These drugs are either legal or inexpensive and easy for young people to get a hold of.

According to the theory, once a young person begins using one or more of these substances, they will feel more inclined to try harder drugs as time wears on.

The Relationship with Other Drugs

There are some criticisms of gateway drug theory. For example, environmental factors and mental illness are not taken into consideration when discussing one’s susceptibility using considerably more ‘dangerous’ drugs.

However, research has found that there is a relationship between gateway drugs and other drug use. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), among children with no other problematic behaviors:

  • 12 to 17-year-olds who drank and smoked cigarettes in the past month are 30 times more likely to smoke marijuana. In fact, girls are 36 times more likely while boys are 27 times more likely.
  • 12 to 17-year-olds who have used both cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana in the past month are nearly 17 times more likely to use illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or LSD. In this case, boys are 29 times more likely while girls are only 11 times more likely.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who smoke marijuana are more than 100 times more likely to eventually use cocaine.

Are Gateway Drugs Dangerous?

It’s important to understand that in the case of gateway drugs and other substances, correlation does not imply causation. Gateway drugs may or may not be the reason people try other drugs, but the relationship is there.

There are likely other factors involved in what causes young people to make these choices, but it’s our role as loved ones to pay attention to what influences someone to try drugs in the first place.

If you know someone who’s suffering from addiction, reach out to us to learn what steps you can take to help.