The term gateway drugs is used to explain a theory that hypothesizes that the use of certain drugs may lead to an increased risk in the use of other drugs and involvement in criminal behavior. Typically gateway drugs are defined as alcohol, marijuana or cigarettes which are inexpensive and readily available. The theory is that, once someone begins to use marijuana, drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes, they will have opened the door to using other drugs. What the theory fails to take into consideration is the influence of other factors, such as the environment, trauma or mental illness.
Statistics show that drug or alcohol addicts typically would have used other drugs along with their drug of choice. Most recovering drug and alcohol addicts have experimented with marijuana, smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol or used prescription medications to enhance the experience of drug taking. Statistics show that there is a strong link between smoking marijuana and other drug use – the National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that a person who smokes marijuana is over 100 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who has never smoked marijuana. The largest critique of this is the possible error of mistaking correlation with causation.
Studies suggest that there is a link between the use of softer drugs (alcohol, tobacco and marijuana) and the future use of harder drugs (cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, heroin). However, this theory is still controversial. The major criticisms that are raised include questions about some individuals who suffer from conditions such as depression, antisocial personality disorder or bipolar who engage in drug seeking behaviour, no matter what the substance, and will take whatever is available.
There have also been questions around the influence of the drug dealers who may be the ones suggesting other drugs, rather than being themselves asked for new drugs. Some studies have also remarked on the difference in laws around drugs, especially drinking age and marijuana use which does not impact on the statistics of drug dependence or addiction.
Some critics also have raised questions about links from one drug to another. Marijuana for instance, is a popular drug smoked by many people all over the world who do not use other drugs. Some users may take other drugs in their life, but the majority of regular marijuana users tend not to take hard drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines or heroin.
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