Monday, September 22, 2014

Gateway Drugs of Abuse

Gateway Drugs of Abuse

The Influence of Gateway Drugs: A Path to Addiction

For decades, scientists have studied how the use of mind-altering substances, or gateway drugs, may influence the likelihood of individuals using stronger or harder drugs. For instance, studies on nicotine have suggested that approximately 90 percent of people who consume cocaine are smokers. In 2011, a study by the National Institutes of Health found that nicotine may affect certain structures of the brain that open the door to cocaine use. Scientists have found that use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and prescription drugs may lead the path to illicit drug use and substance addiction.

The Role of Alcohol as a Gateway Drug

As a legal and socially acceptable drug, alcohol use is a reliable predictor of progressive substance abuse. According to a study by the University of Florida in 2012, people who began drinking at an early age are 16 times more likely to use cocaine, LSD or narcotics. Alcohol may create changes in the brain structures that predispose the user to alcoholism or dependence. Consequently, alcohol prevention programs for adolescents may significantly decrease the use of illicit drugs for future generations.

As an individual develops a higher tolerance to alcohol, more of the substance is required to produce the same effects. The addition of stronger or illicit drugs may help the sufferer experience the "numbing" or "euphoric" feeling that has become more difficult to achieve for the heavy drinker. Sufferers of alcoholism may also use cocaine or other stimulants to continue drinking and surpass their tolerance to alcohol.

Does Marijuana Open the Door to Narcotics?

Although the debate continues, scientists have suggested that marijuana may be a social gateway drug that can possibly lead to the use of cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin. As a user progresses from alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana may be the next step towards stronger substances. Eventually, a cannabis user may be more likely to experiment with cocaine, opiates or other narcotics. A high percentage of people who use illicit drugs have admitted to using pot first. Researchers have also found that heavy pot smokers tend to use stronger substances of abuse.

Prescription Opiates Progress to Heroin Addiction

Few people use heroin without experimenting with less potent drugs first. Often, individuals who abuse prescription opiates, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and hydrocodone, are more likely to progress to the use of heroin. While some people may have experienced an injury or medical condition that warranted the initial use of prescription pain medications, others may have experimented with opiates and consequently developed an addiction. As the most highly abused prescription medication in the U.S., experts believe that these prescriptions have caused the demand and supply of heroin to re-emerge in cities across the country.

The Complexity of Substance Abuse and Addiction

Researchers strive to examine all the contributing factors that result in drug abuse and addiction. Like any other medical disease or condition, substance abuse or dependence requires trained professionals to provide individualized drug treatment. A large proportion of addiction sufferers initiated dependence by self-medicating the emotional disturbances of depression, stressful anxiety or an underlying mental health disorder. While some people can arbitrarily experiment with illicit drugs and not become addicted, other individuals may have a genetic predisposition to drug dependence. Although gateway drugs may be a predictor to the progression of drug use in some sufferers, many factors play a role in drug addiction.

The Controversy of Gateway Drug Theory

Although the gateway drug theory may be controversial for some, there is no disputing that an overwhelming number of hard-drug users began by smoking, drinking or experimenting with marijuana. Obviously, few individuals would use cocaine, heroin or other illicit drugs without experiencing the milder mood-altering substances. While gateway drugs may be responsible for a large portion of drug abuse, it's important to factor the social aspects, mental conditions and genetic predisposition that may contribute to addiction.

National Institutes of Health:

Prescription Drug Abuse:

University of Florida:


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