Gateway Drugs- Fact or Fiction?

The Definition

Gateway Drugs – a term used to identify lighter drugs (marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco) that lead to a higher likelihood of hard drug use (heroin, cocaine, and club drugs)

The Theory

The idea behind the gateway drugs is that young drug users doing light drugs will be much more likely to be doing hard drugs later on in life.

The Facts

1. Studies show that more than 90% of hard drug users started by using lighter drugs
2. Studies show that not every light drug user will later use harder drugs

The Debate

The theory of gateway drugs is simple and logical. If you use light drugs at a younger age, you are more likely to make use of the hard drugs later on in life. This makes sense, right? Most people will agree with the idea of gateway drugs, but what people find an issue with is what a gateway drug is for various individuals.
The other argument against the theory is that people who use both the lighter drugs and harder drugs were already predisposed to do so, and the lighter drugs are generally more available and therefore used first. There are many studies being done to prove this new idea to debunk the gateway theory but as of yet, the information provided against it does not yet present a solid argument.


Tobacco is one of the least identified gateway drug for this reason. Not as many tobacco users end up using hard drugs later on in life as a direct correlation. But there are hard drug users who have tied back the beginning of their drug days as starting with tobacco, which is why it is technically classified as a gateway drug.


Many people don’t recognize alcohol as a drug. In fact, many people don’t take into account that it is more widely used and acceptable than the use of tobacco but for somehow the legal age for tobacco use is set 3 years before the legal age for drinking alcohol. One of the most common ways that alcohol becomes a gateway drug is through social events. Often times at a party or gathering where alcohol is served, somebody has some other drug to offer. Due to either intoxication or peer pressure, this is how many people first begin smoking marijuana and a number of other drug substances.


Marijuana is the most consistent gateway drug. More hard-drug users can link their first drug days to this substance. Young users are two to five times more likely to eventually move on to harder drugs. One study by The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University showed that adolescents who used marijuana were 85 times more likely to use cocaine than adolescents who abstained. The same study’s results showed that 60% percent of children who smoked it before they turned 15 years old would later go on to use cocaine.

Avoid being a victim of gateway drugs

Say no. There is no guarantee that you are or are not prone to letting a gateway drug have its effect on you. The best thing you can do is to simply say no. While this is easier said than done, it gets easier to say after the first several times.

If you insist on saying yes, then at least give yourself a background check. Does alcoholism run in your family? Will there be more than just alcohol accessible at that party (don’t give in if the answer is yes!)? Be smart and don’t get intoxicated, and also be smart about what you’re saying yes to. Saying yes to tobacco or marijuana is not optimal, because both can become an addiction and neither is healthy for your body. Not to mention that marijuana is still illegal.

If you or a loved one already struggles with a drug addiction or with drug abuse, get the help you deserve from a qualified drug rehab today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.