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What Are Gateway Drugs (And How Dangerous Are They)

It has been estimated that one in every 7 Americans will face drug addiction at some point in their lives. The vast majority of these people will not be treated for their addictions.

This is not only a widespread problem but a dangerous one as well. It is estimated that heroin and opioid painkillers alone cause about 3 deaths every hour.

There are many different reasons why this happens, and one of them has to do with gateway drugs. What is a gateway drug, though, and how do they contribute to addiction?

We’ll answer those questions and more in the paragraphs below.

What Is a Gateway Drug?

What is a gateway drug, exactly? There’s not a convenient answer to this question. Technically, anything can be a gateway drug. The only factor that defines a gateway drug is whether or not it leads to later use of harder, more dangerous substances.

Among the most commonly-cited are alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. The gateway drug theory states that these substances prime the brain to crave harder substances.

Is it True?

The honest answer is that we may never know whether or not the gateway drug theory holds up. Statistically, you’re far more likely to become addicted to substances later on if you used one as a  teen or pre-teen.

In 2011, it was found that roughly 10% of those who checked into treatment centers had been using since they were 11 years old or younger. This same group was also more likely to be addicted to multiple substances compared to their peers who started later.

Many argue that this proves nothing. Other factors, such as tendencies towards risk behaviors, more time to be exposed to different substances, and undiagnosed mental illness, could explain the gateway effect.

Background can also be a predictor because those with particularly difficult childhoods are more likely to abuse substances.

Is it Useful?

Regardless of whether or not the theory is true, the findings it’s based on can’t be ignored. Knowing the factors that seem to go hand-in-hand with addiction can help us predict who’s the most at-risk for later substance abuse.

We can know to look for signs of addiction or try to intervene before there’s a more severe problem.

Are marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol gateway drugs? Can early exposure prime the brain for more dangerous substances? Maybe, but they’re useful in predicting addiction later on, and it would be wise to pay attention to them and the people who use them.

What Is a Gateway Drug?

What is a gateway drug? Simply put, it’s any substance that makes us more likely to use other substances later on. There are many arguments as to the cause of later addiction and how gateway drugs play into it, but they do seem to be a potential predictor of addiction later in life.

We’ve talked about this theory in the paragraphs above, but drugs and neuroscience is a complicated field, so you might want to do more research on your own.

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