Alcohol abuse has caused a lot of turmoil and chaos in the lives that it has overtaken. Alcoholism does not happen overnight and as time passes the abuse of alcohol becomes worse. Before you know it, your life can spiral out of control in all areas. Luckily, alcohol addiction treatment will provide the therapy and coping mechanisms that will show you how to rebuild and recreate what your life looks like without alcohol. Understanding and processing the causes, thoughts, and behaviors of your alcohol addiction will be the introduction to a life of recovery. Without the open mind to accept the help that is available there is no saying where alcohol abuse can take someone. There is also the question that has become very common among many people: is alcohol a gateway drug? As one of the most commonly abused legal substances in the world, the chances of alcohol leading a person to the use of other substances is very likely. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly a gateway drug is and if alcohol can be considered one of them.
What is a Gateway Drug?
Gateway drugs are substances that, when consumed, give way to harder, more dangerous drugs. Common examples of gateway drugs are nicotine or alcohol. These milder substances are believed to open the door to “harder” drugs such as meth, heroin, and cocaine. These drugs are known to boost dopamine levels. This increases pleasure. It’s what makes you feel good when you are on the substance. Where this can get complicated is when it comes to children and young adults. The dopamine boost caused by gateway drugs during adolescence makes the brain release less dopamine during adulthood. As a result, as a person gets older, they need to find new, stronger, substances to continue to get that feeling. This leads people to seek harder drugs that cause more dramatic dopamine releases.
In addition to the feeling of wanting or needing more, gateway drugs also prime or prepare the brain for a response to other substances. This is known as cross-sensitization. Cross-sensitization heightens brain activity and could make users more likely to seek stronger substances.
At the end of the day though, drug use behavior is largely caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. A person’s genetic makeup, family history, living environment, and community affect their likelihood of trying drugs. Gateway drugs may just be one factor that affects a person’s risk of trying more dangerous substances.
What is the History of Gateway Drugs?
The idea that drug use can occur in stages took root in the mid-20th century. The first drug to ever really get the stigma of a “gateway drug” was marijuana. TV shows such as “The Terrible Truth” suggested marijuana use led to heroin addiction. Researchers then began using the term “gateway drug” in the 1980s to describe substances that initiate these stages. Shortly thereafter, studies began to be conducted. In 1985, a report published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found alcohol to be a steppingstone to use of heavier drugs. As a result of that report, research on gateway drugs blossomed.
Since the 1980s, educators have warned students about the dangers of gateway drugs through programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.). These programs were developed to specifically outline the consequences of three potential gateway drugs: marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. The teaching of gateway drugs has even made its way down into the middle school level.
Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug?
Many people don’t view alcohol as a gateway drug because it’s readily available. Since anyone 21 or older can legally purchase alcohol, it is typically not viewed in the same light as illegal drugs. In fact, when people think about addiction, they usually think of drugs like prescription opioids or cocaine. However, alcohol can be just as addictive and dangerous as any illicit substance.
One study on the gateway drug phenomenon found unequivocally that alcohol represented the reality of a gateway drug. It led to the use of marijuana, tobacco and other illicit substances. The study from the Journal of Scholastic Health found that young people who drank were more likely to use drugs. Unfortunately, the numbers are striking too. High school seniors who used alcohol were 16 times more likely to use marijuana and other narcotics.
The reason for that is because alcohol is an addictive substance. It’s as simple as that. It makes you feel good and you want to continue to have that feeling. The problem with that, though, is its effects on the reward center of the brain. By liking the feeling that you get when you are on it, you can become dependent on those effects. Recognizing alcohol as a gateway drug shows the substance for what it really is. In reality, alcohol is a depressant drug that reduces the ability to think rationally and make good judgment calls. These undesired effects of alcohol only worsen when substance abuse continues over time.
Dangers of Drinking
Regardless of its label as a gateway drug, there are many risks and dangers are involved when it comes to alcohol use in general. Because it is considered a gateway drug though, especially amongst minors, it is important to spread awareness of those dangers. Here are some of the consequences of underage drinking:
- Causes many deaths
- Causes injuries
- Increases the risks of physical and sexual assault
- Can lead to other problems with the law or other substances
- Alcohol Use Disorder (alcohol addiction) can be a possibility
- Increases the risk of cancer
Avoiding alcohol abuse, or any other substance abuse for that matter, is possible but difficult. There is no way of saying who will be affected and who will not be caged in from addiction. What is important is taking preventative measures to educate everyone, especially children, on the consequences of drinking and hope that it will be enough to lead them to the right path.
Do You Suffer from Alcohol Addiction?
For those that are suffering from alcohol addiction whether it is you, or a loved one, reach out for help today. At FHE Health, we will make sure you no longer have to face addiction alone and you will not live a life of recovery alone either. Our treatment resources will provide you with the tools you need to live free, choose life today and contact us at 866 -421-6242.