Are you concerned that your teen could be using gateway drugs that might lead to more dangerous substances down the road? While any teenage drug or alcohol use can be concerning, Ascend can help you learn whether gateway drug use is likely to lead to addiction or other issues later on in your teen’s life.
There is no official definition of gateway drugs from government agencies or medical societies. Colloquially, this term describes supposedly more socially acceptable substances that may lead to more dangerous drugs. However, gateway drugs are not necessarily the most important risk factor for teenage substance use issues. The true gateway to substance abuse is actually trauma, lack of coping mechanisms, and declining mental health. Learn more about some of the substances that are considered gateway drugs, as well as the real reason your teen may start abusing illicit substances.
What Are Gateway Drugs?
Many professionals choose to define gateway drugs as substances that are an introduction to hard drug use. Some people consider cigarettes and alcohol to be gateway drugs because their socially acceptable nature can lead teens towards other, more dangerous substances. Many teens who use drugs and alcohol early on are more likely to struggle with addiction as adults. They can also face lasting physical, mental, and even legal issues resulting from this substance abuse.
Examples of “Gateway Drugs”
Some substances that are commonly considered examples of gateway drugs include:
Alcohol is legal for those over 21 and is widely available, making it easily accessible for teenagers. Some teenagers might drink due to peer pressure or other outside influences. Teens do not yet have the impulse control and decision-making skills needed to consume alcohol responsibly and can be more likely to engage in risky behaviors while under the influence.
Marijuana also often falls under the definition of a gateway drug. While it’s not legal in every state, marijuana has been pretty widely approved for recreational and medicinal use across the United States. This publicly palatable drug is often used as a coping mechanism for teens who struggle with stress, anxiety, or other issues.
Nicotine in the form of cigarettes or vaping is legal for those over the age of 21. This is another substance that makes drug use seem cool and fun. Even more dangerous is the way it can be used to soothe stress and anxiety. What happens when a cigarette doesn’t do the trick anymore? Will your teen turn to heroin or opiates instead?
What Really Causes Substance Use Issues?
Do gateway drugs always lead to addiction? While early use of drugs or alcohol can be a sign of future substance abuse, other risk factors can play a bigger role. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as traumatic experiences, can trigger substance use as a coping mechanism.
If your teen has been through a traumatic experience or is exhibiting signs of mental health concerns, Ascend’s mental health treatment programs for teens can help. Addressing these common risk factors for addiction can keep them from using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. You won’t have to worry about the definition of gateway drugs when you treat the root of the problem.
Help for Teen Substance Use at Ascend Healthcare
Now that you know a little bit more about what gateway drugs are, you can make more informed decisions about your child’s health. At Ascend Healthcare, we offer residential treatment programs for teens struggling with co-occurring mental health issues. Our California treatment center provides a variety of evidence-based therapies to help teens heal.