There is a long-held belief in the United States that drugs like marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes are actually gateway substances or drugs that can lead people who abuse them (especially when they are young) to harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, etc. But the truth is there isn’t much scientific evidence to back up this theory. While it doesn’t seem likely that softer drugs are actually a gateway to harder drug addiction, it is true that these substances cause addictions of their own.
Many studies have been conducted on the validity of the gateway drug theory since it first came about in the 1970s and gained popularity in the 1980s as part of the Just Say No campaign. However, no studies have seemed to prove this theory, and a study published as recently as 2016 found that there wasn’t a definite correlation between alcohol, marijuana, or cigarette use during one’s teenage years and harder drug abuse later in life. Instead, though many people who abuse harder drugs did abuse these substances earlier on, the connection in no way is supported by the reverse effect: many people who smoke marijuana or cigarettes or drink alcohol early in life never use harder drugs later on.
However, it is still important for us to recognize as a society that these drugs can cause their own addiction syndromes, and sometimes, treatment is necessary. Though they are milder substances than heroin, cocaine, and meth—and their use does not indicate an addiction to one of these substances later in life—users still should be wary of their possible side effects. If you abuse marijuana, alcohol, or cigarettes, contact Addictions.com to find a rehab program that meets your needs.