It’s often thought that taking what’s perceived as a “harmless” drug-like weed or drinking alcohol is opening the door right up to the use of more dangerous drugs down the road. A gateway drug in other words.

The idea of it is so enmeshed and intertwined with our thoughts about addiction that it’s essentially preached as gospel.

What Is a Gateway Drug?

As defined by the dictionary, it’s “a drug whose use is thought to lead to the use of and dependence on a harder drug”. Far and away the most common examples of gateway drugs are marijuana, alcohol, nicotine and prescription pills.

The truth is though, the concept of a gateway drug isn’t actually an entirely settled debate. Studies don’t conclusively bear out whether it’s a direct cause and effect connection and for that reason, it’s sometimes referred to as “gateway theory”.

Nonetheless, whether or not there is a causal relationship or not, erring on the side of caution is always wise when it comes to drugs or alcohol. Plus, regardless of if it leads to harder substances later in life, consuming intoxicating substances recreationally is not ideal in and of itself.

With that, let’s now examine some of those common gateways.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that “some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances”.

One study noted that “adults who reported marijuana use during the first wave of the survey were more likely than adults who did not use marijuana to develop an alcohol use disorder within 3 years”.

Overall though, NIDA says that while findings are consistent with marijuana being something of a gateway drug, they added that “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances”.


Among the most accepted substances out there, alcohol feels like it’s part of the very fabric of our society. 

It’s held at celebrations of all types and we associate it with everything from networking events for work to an integral accompaniment for watching our favorite sports and beyond.

The fact that it’s legal means it’s becoming so utterly normalized that we sometimes forget the dangers.

As a potential gateway drug, an investigation of high schoolers showed that alcohol did, in fact, lead “to the use of tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit substances. Moreover, students who used alcohol exhibited a significantly greater likelihood of using both licit and illicit drugs”.


Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death in the US.

The addictive substance that hooks people is nicotine and research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shown that nicotine “makes the brain more susceptible to cocaine addiction”. Adding that in one survey, “over 90% of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine”.

Prescription Pain Pills

Among the direst drug-related issues facing the country is the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has claimed over 500,000 lives since 1999 (about half of which involve a prescription opioid).

Opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin are routinely prescribed for pain and the concern is that due to their highly addictive nature they can lead to the use of heroin, an illegal opioid.

NIDA confirms this and says “research now suggests that misuse of these medications may actually open the door to heroin use. Some also report switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids”.

Let Us Help You Today With Your Addiction

As you can see, even though it’s not decisive, there’s a body of evidence that does point to these substances being a possible gateway to something harder. If you’re concerned that yourself or a man in your life might be in danger of making that leap, reach out to us at Valley Recovery Center to learn more about your options. 


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