Gateway drugs, or illicit substances used prior to “harder” illicit drugs cause serious substance use disorders. Substance abuse is the precursor to developing the disease of addiction. Commonly abused gateway substances include alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Although many attribute marijuana as the ultimate gateway drug, substance abusers typically begin with alcohol and cigarettes and move on to other addictive substances.
Gateway drugs are habit-forming and create a tolerance within the body, requiring larger and larger quantities of one’s substance of choice to experience psychoactive effects.
Addressing the use of gateway drugs is essential in staving off a full-blown substance use disorder (SUDs). A substance use disorder is a clinical physical and psychological disease. Substance abuse is the beginning stages of one developing an addiction use disorder.
One does not have to suffer from a full-scale substance use disorder to benefit from a Gateway Drug Rehab! This is a common misconception costing thousands their lives.
What Is a Gateway Drug?
A gateway drug is any substance that, when used, may later lead to the user switching to more dangerous, powerful substances. These may include heroin, prescription opiates, methamphetamine, and crack.
Any gateway substance is attributed to the introduction and normalization of using addictive substances for recreation or self-medication.
Once use continues on, one’s brain chemistry morphs, becoming dependent upon the substance of choice.
How Does a Gateway Drug Lead to Further Drug Use?
Many begin abusing illicit substances or alcohol the first time as a way to experiment.
“Experimenters” typically do not know how the drug or substance will make them feel, so they ingest a small amount. Many individuals suffer convulsions and even death upon first use in cases of individualized intolerance. This can be a result of undiagnosed physical complications.
Often, gateway drugs are introduced through social circles. Peer pressure to use addictive substances is typically too strong for both young and old to speak up against. Commonly attributed to one’s desire to be accepted among their peers.
Initially, the substance provides users with euphoric feelings they begin to chase to alleviate life’s stressors. Habits form after merely twenty-one days of use.
Marijuana as a Gateway Drug
There were 2.6 million new users of marijuana within the United States in 2016.
As marijuana becomes more readily available and is legalized, there many continue to be an increase in the number of people using it.
Studies show exposing rodents to THC while young increased their likelihood to develop addictions when exposed to other drugs.
THC was shown to change neural pathways in the brain, creating a necessity for the substance to ensure “functioning.” This type of functioning is typically impaired. As a result, users often lose their jobs, may become homeless, isolate themselves from non-using social circles, and behave recklessly.
A further study discovered using marijuana early in life is often associated with drug abuse and use later in life.
Is Alcohol Really a Gateway Drug?
Alcohol is easy to access, and for that reason, many young adults and teens use it. The National Institutes of Health reported those between the ages of 18 and 24 were more likely to have a drug use disorder coexisting with an alcohol abuse disorder.
Another survey conducted by the Monitoring the Future Project discovered those who admitted to being exposed to alcohol in 6th grade were at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.
Tobacco: A Notorious Gateway Often Missed
A 2011 study found in Science Translational Medicine showed rodents who were given water laced with nicotine had heightened responses to cocaine when given it later in their lives.
There are additional studies noting an association between tobacco use and later illicit drug use.
The nicotine found in cigarettes is the real cause of addiction. Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health found 90% of cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 also started smoking cigarettes before switching over to the illicit drug.
Using nicotine may lead to higher FosB expression in the brain, which can lead to a higher likelihood of cocaine addiction.
Prescription Pain Medications as Gateway Substances
Prescription pain medications often prescribed for pain after surgery or an injury. These prescription medications, especially opiates, are linked to users switching to heroin. A common reason for this is the street cost for prescription drugs on the black market.
Often, desperate users begin stealing prescription medications from loved ones and social circles. This is especially common among middle schoolers and teenagers.
However, the behavior is also present in adults.
Eventually, one’s need becomes so costly, the cheaper alternative to sustain the psychoactive effects of opiates are achieved through heroin use.
Are Gateway Drugs Addictive?
What Are Treatments for Gateway Drug Abuse?
Like any other kind of addiction, a person who struggles with gateway drug abuse will benefit from substance abuse treatment therapies at a gateway drug rehab.
For example, some excellent ways to address gateway drug abuse include:
- Going to 12-step programs for alcohol or drug abuse
- Speaking with a doctor about a tapering program to stop using pain medications
- Using nicotine patches or smoking cessation aids to stop smoking tobacco or cigarettes
- Switching to marijuana-based CBD instead of using marijuana containing THC
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Co-occurring disorder treatments, such as treatment for underlying anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder
- Detoxification for the safe cessation of alcohol or other substances
- Inpatient rehabilitation, which can teach helpful ways to avoid triggers and relapse
- Outpatient treatment with private therapy and medical monitoring
Every client is different, so the intensity of the program that they need may vary.
Clients who have co-existing disorders, such as bipolar disorder combined with heroin use, may need more intensive support through an inpatient program.
If you are interested in getting support for gateway drug abuse gets in touch with our clinical professionals.
Contact Discovery Point Retreat for Support with Gateway Drug Rehab
Here at Discovery Point Retreat, we’re here to help clients understand gateway drugs and treatment needed to achieve sobriety.
We know living with an untreated SUD or dealing with the burgeoning of substance abuse is unbelievably difficult, but addiction medicine helps!
Call the leading Gateway Drug Rehab in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex now!