There have been many claims, for many years, about marijuana being a gateway drug and this has been an accepted “fact” for a long time but it’s been found that some of the research this is based on is faulty. So, a team of researchers at Texas A&M and the University of Florida decided to ask this question again. Using data from the Monitoring the Future Study, they looked to see which substances teens typically used first. The findings, recently published in the Journal of School Health, were somewhat surprising.
They found that “the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.” In addition, of the three main substances, adolescents were more likely to try alcohol or cigarettes before trying pot. The researchers found that of all substances, alcohol was the most widely used and started the earliest.
So, understanding that alcohol is a gateway drug is critical as parents allow kids to “drink safely” in their homes or think “Kids are going to do it anyway, you really can’t stop them.” “Alcohol acts like a sledgehammer on kids’ brains” according to researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and prevention is key to raising teens into healthy adults.
The findings from previous research, into this same issue concur with this later research. “Alcohol should receive primary attention in school-based substance abuse prevention programming, as the use of other substances could be impacted by delaying or preventing alcohol use. Therefore, it seems prudent for school and public health officials to focus prevention efforts, policies, and monies, on addressing adolescent alcohol use.”
The researchers of the latest study point out that, in the end, what drugs kids are using first isn’t as big an issue as how early they start using anything. In the study they state, “Overall, early onset substance initiation, whether that is alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, exerts a powerful influence over future health risk behaviors.”