Initiating substance use during adolescence is one of the key risk factors for future substance use disorders, and what starts with “soft” drugs can quickly transition to more addictive and harmful substances. The best thing you can do for a teen who has started to use gateway drugs is to find help at an adolescent substance abuse treatment center. Call Foothills at Red Oak Recovery at 866.300.5275 to learn more about our addiction treatment options for adolescent boys.
What Is a Gateway Drug?
While many people have heard the term before, you may still wonder, “What is a gateway drug?” Essentially, a gateway drug is a substance that typically predicts future, more harmful drug use. Gateway drugs tend to be the most available substances in any particular region. They tend to be seen as:
- Less harmful
- Low risk
- Socially acceptable
Despite these beliefs, beginning to use gateway drugs, particularly at a young agr, is a frequent predictor of future illicit substance use and potential addiction.
Examples of Gateway Drugs
Common examples of gateway drugs in the United States include marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco. They may be easily accessible to adolescents, and using them can lead teens to engage in further illicit drug use.
While marijuana has long been considered the primary gateway drug, research indicates that most people in the United States drink alcohol before taking any other substance. Alcohol use in the United States is widely considered to be socially acceptable, even among young people who aren’t of legal age to drink.
Alcohol is also widely available and can be obtained by underage drinkers relatively easily. Alcohol that is left unattended in the house, for instance, can quickly find its way into a teenager’s hands and start them on the path to substance use.
An early age of alcohol use is a key risk factor for future addiction. Alcohol use primes the brain for addictive patterns, particularly during adolescence, when the brain is most malleable.
Historically, tobacco is the second drug on the gateway path to substance use. Yet these days, teenagers and adolescents are more likely to use electronic cigarettes as a form of nicotine consumption.
Like alcohol, nicotine activates the reward centers in the brain that are commonly associated with addiction. Early nicotine use can create lasting changes in the brain, making substance use disorders more likely to occur.
While marijuana is often referred to as “the gateway drug,” data from the Archives of General Psychiatry actually suggests that it is the last drug in the gateway path, after alcohol and tobacco. Yet marijuana is often the first substance that puts teenagers in contact with drug dealers and carries a significant risk of legal repercussions.
Not every adolescent who uses marijuana will go on to use hard drugs. Still, many people who use hard drugs use marijuana first, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. If your teenager has initiated marijuana use, it might be time to find a recovery center that can help treat their substance use patterns.
Get Help at Foothills at Red Oak Recovery
Foothills at Red Oak Recovery is an adolescent treatment center that helps teenage boys overcome substance use and prevent future addictive behaviors. If your teenager has started using any of the gateway drugs, taking action now to help nip substance use in the bud is often the best thing you can do for their health.
To learn more about our addiction treatment programs for adolescents or to learn more about examples of gateway drugs, reach out to our team by calling 866.300.5275. Evidence-based treatment methods can help them recover and set them up for a better life in the future.