Cocaine, Xanax, ecstasy, heroin … what do these drugs have in common? Most people who abuse these dangerous drugs didn’t start using them until after they were already using a less potent drug: a gateway drug. A gateway drug by definition is a drug that opens the door to the use of other, harder drugs. Gateway drugs are typically inexpensive and readily available. The term gateway drug, however, is controversial, because some critics say there is not enough evidenc e to prove that using certain drugs leads to the abuse of others.
Identifying Gateway Drugs
Believe it or not, tobacco is a gateway drug. Although it is not socially labeled as a drug, it is in fact a gateway drug. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, “Tobacco use is associated with alcohol and illicit drug use and is generally the first drug used by young people who enter a sequence of drug use that can include tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs.”
This is why it is so important to encourage your children to stay away from tobacco and educate them on the dangers of smoking. The younger that children start smoking, the more addicted they can become. As a parent, focus on short-term consequences and explain that over time smoking will hurt them.
Alcohol is also a gateway drug that has been branded socially acceptable. It is not out of the ordinary— or even a concern—to some parents that their teens have had alcohol. In fact, research shows that by the age of 18, as many as 90 percent of teens have experimented with alcohol.
As a parent, you may partake in the consumption of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable for your teenagers to. Alcohol is a very addictive substance, especially when it is being consumed by a child whose central nervous system is not fully developed. As a matter of fact, your brain does not become fully developed until the age of 25!
Remember that you are a role model to your children and they imitate your every move. If you drink to ease stress or to have fun, they may follow your lead. It is important to stress that alcohol is only appropriate in moderation, and for responsible adults.
You should also keep these facts in mind:
- Research shows that 35 percent of all the wine coolers in the U.S. are consumed by teens.
- Binge drinking (the consumption of five or more drinks at one sitting) is reported as early as the eighth grade.
- Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years of age.
- Half of all youthful deaths in drowning, fires, suicide, and homicide are alcohol related.
Marijuana is slowly being pushed as socially acceptable by people (and industries) who would like to see it legalized. Be forewarned, as “harmless” as the media and other institutions want to make it seem, marijuana is still an illegal drug— and a gateway drug at that.
According to George Koob, M.D., of the Scripps Research Institute, long-term exposure to cannabinoids (the active ingredient in marijuana) could make a person vulnerable to abuse and addiction to other drugs.
He says, “Cannabis abuse appears to activate corticotropin-releasing factor, a brain chemical that increases during periods of stress. Consequently this could lead to a subtle disruption of brain processes that are then ‘primed’ for further and easier disruption by other drugs of abuse."
Many professionals in the public health industry say that the marijuana being grown today is much stronger, and therefore more addictive and dangerous, than it used to be.
In a 2007 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more adults were being admitted to treatment centers for marijuana and hashish addictions than for addictions to heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
According to the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia (CASA):
- Children who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than non-marijuana users. (Ninety percent of children who used marijuana smoked or drank first.)
- Children who drink are 50 times more likely to use cocaine than non-drinkers.
- Children who smoke are 19 times more likely to use cocaine than nonsmokers.
It is important to take preventative measures with your children to keep them from experimenting with gateway drugs. You should keep communication open and always look for a chance in everyday conversation to talk about the dangers and consequences of using drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Livefree! is here to help you find ways to reach out to your children by providing a wealth of information and links to programs and resources. Please feel free to visit our website or reach out to us. Together we can “Be the Wall” against drugs and alcohol.