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What You Need to Know About Gateway Drugs

Woman using gateway drugs

Addiction starts out as seemingly harmless substance misuse and use. This occasional recreational habit can quickly turn into a deadly dependence on a much more dangerous drug. Many people mistakenly believe that this could never happen to them, but it’s not unheard of for a teenager smoking marijuana to eventually try cocaine or someone using painkillers to turn to heroin. Are gateway drugs the cause of this substance use spiraling out of control?

Vertava Health Mississippi provides substance abuse treatment programs that can help those struggling with addiction break free. Learn more by contacting our center today.

What Are Gateway Drugs?

Gateway drugs are substances that are believed to lead to the use and use of other more dangerous drugs as well as potentially the development of an addiction. Generally, gateway drugs are considered “soft drugs” or substances that are thought to be less harmful than other “hard drugs.” Although gateway drugs may not be as hazardous to someone’s health as other substances of use, the danger of gateway drugs is that they may increase the risk of someone misusing or becoming dependent on other substances.

Are Gateway Drugs Real?

The validity of the gateway drug theory is sometimes debated. Many experiments and studies do find a correlation between the use of gateway drugs predating the use of other drugs. There is also research that suggests that exposure to gateway drugs can lead to changes in the brain that can make someone more sensitive and vulnerable to other drug use. Regardless, some people argue that whether someone uses gateway drugs is irrelevant and their other substance use would occur anyway. Others suggest that gateway drugs make the transition to harder drugs easier. In reality, addiction is a complex disease. The use of gateway drugs is probably one of many factors that can increase a person’s risk of becoming dependent on drugs.

Common Gateway Drug Examples

The list of gateway drugs can change from source to source as well as from time to time as new studies are conducted and more evidence comes to the surface. Based on current research, some examples of gateway drugs include:

  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription painkillers


There is a growing push to legalize marijuana across the United States, but marijuana may not be completely harmless. Some studies suggest that not only is marijuana addictive for some individuals but also marijuana is a gateway drug for some people.


There have been several studies surrounding nicotine as a gateway drug. Although thought to be a safer alternative to cigarettes, vape pens are also a concern for many parents. Still containing nicotine, e-cigarettes may act as gateway drugs as well.


Although legal for Americans over 21, alcohol can be problematic, and some people need professional alcohol addiction treatment to stop drinking. Even though it can be a major problem on its own, some people won’t stop there. Alcohol is often thought of as a gateway drug for some, especially for teens and young adults.

Reach Out to Vertava Health Mississippi to Learn More

With the ongoing opioid epidemic, the use of prescription painkillers is an area of major concern. Not only is this dangerous on its own, but heroin use is also about 19 times higher in those that have used pain relievers than those who did not. Other reports suggest that up to 80% of those who use heroin began abusing prescription painkillers before trying heroin. To avoid the many dangers associated with heroin, people abusing painkillers should seek opioid addiction treatment sooner rather than later. While the exact facts about gateway drugs may still be partially unknown, substance use of any kind can be dangerous.

Many people who use gateway drugs will never go on to develop an addiction, but for others, gateway drugs are the first step down a dark and dangerous road. Instead of going too far down the wrong path, take a step in the right direction. Our drug rehab center in Mississippi offers a full continuum of care to help people at every stage on their road to recovery. Contact us today to get started. At Vertava Health Mississippi, we are here for you.