What Are Gateway Drugs?

If you’ve experimented with drugs in your social circle or at a party, you likely ask, “What are gateway drugs?” In short, gateway drugs lead to other illicit substances. However, some people consider common gateway drugs that are not physically addictive but could be habit-forming.

However, many studies suggest that using milder drugs opens the door to abuse more powerful substances. 

Examples of Gateway Drugs and Their Effects

Many people consider nicotine, marijuana, and alcohol gateway drugs. A National Institute on Drug Abuse survey found adults who use marijuana are more likely to develop an alcohol disorder than those who don't. Marijuana users under the age of 18 are 85 times more likely to try cocaine than children who don’t use marijuana. Not to mention, adults who drink as kids are more prone to cocaine use than adults who don't try alcohol during childhood.

Unfortunately, opioids and prescription drugs are becoming more popular as well. These substances increase the brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine makes you feel good and activates your central nervous system’s reward centers.

Many people don’t realize it, but prescription drug abuse is the leading cause of overdoses in the United States. We hear so much about heroin and fentanyl killing people on a regular basis, but this isn’t the main problem.

Thousands of people are abusing medications like prescription opioids, which can be highly addictive. The other fact to consider is that over 80% of people who use heroin start off with prescription opioids.

What Are Gateway Drugs Like Marijuana Doing To Your Brain?

Additionally, we associate some gateway drugs with physical dependency. For example, nicotine absorbs rapidly into your bloodstream. The stimulating buzz you receive wearing off quickly, leaving you want more. The more frequently you use nicotine, the more you want it.

Addiction isn’t limited to certain substances, and it’s not even limited to substances at all when you think about gambling addiction. Addiction forms due to a rewiring of neural pathways from our most primitive instincts. It alters a person’s habit loop, which includes the following aspects:

  • Trigger
  • Behavior
  • Reward

When looking at marijuana abuse as an example, let’s say you use marijuana daily after work or school. The time of day would be the trigger, and using the drug is the behavior. The reward for this may be relaxed after a long day. However, that reward lays down a memory in your brain. The next time you have the same trigger, your brain wants you to do it again, and eventually, you lose control.

You can also become physically dependent on alcohol. Your body acclimates to the way it functions when you’re under the influence. You also build up a tolerance, which means you need more of the chemical to experience the same effects as you once did. Eventually, you may believe you need the substance to feel normal.

How Early Experimentation with a Gateway Drug Leads to Problems Later

It’s common for young people to experiment with drugs like marijuana and over-the-counter medications. Many teens—and for that matter, their parents—may believe this is no big deal, but it can be. Addiction causes individuals to lose the power of choice when it comes to drug abuse. They can destroy their future as well as cause harm to their friends and family. Even if the substance use doesn’t progress to harder drugs, it can make one’s life become unmanageable.

Gateway to Recovery: Find Your Perfect Addiction Treatment Program for Drugs and Alcohol

You may wonder, “What are gateway drugs treatment options?” You might also ask yourself if you need drug and alcohol addiction treatment to a gateway drug. Even if you feel like the substances you use aren’t powerful enough to create an addiction or control your life, you may need treatment. The signs that you have a problem include:

  • Intense craving for your drug of choice
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use the substance
  • Thinking about the substance all the time
  • Taking inappropriate actions to obtain or use the drug

Don't Let Drugs, Alcohol, or Addiction Hold You Down Any Longer

At Pinnacle Peak Recovery, we offer many addiction treatment programs for treating soft and hard drugs, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana addiction
  • Hallucinogens
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Methamphetamine

Our rehab blog and accredited facility provide the necessary education for understanding how addiction develops and what you can do to retake control of your life. Discover the answers to, “What are gateway drugs?” and ways to manage your substance use disorder before it gets out of hand. Call us today at 866-377-4813.