The use of drugs and more specifically its initiation and progression, has a history of being compared to a doorway in preventative education programs. Also known as gateway drug theory, this theoretical framework is founded on statistical data. Many people who have used or currently use cocaine, heroin or other hard narcotics have also used less extreme substances, such as tobacco, marijuana and alcohol.
In her 2002 study, “Using latent transition analysis to examine the gateway hypothesis,“ researcher Linda Collins defines gateway theory as a fulfillment of two requirements: an ordered progression where one drug is tried or experimented with before another and the probability of using the second drug is greater for individuals who have used the first one.
Despite its prevalence in many youth-targeted drug prevention strategies, a strong opposition also exists against the theory. This group believes that the association between using two different drugs is correlated, but rarely causational. Competing theories such as common liability to addiction (CLA) propose that many types of problem behavior are indeed related and individuals may struggle with a biological or developmental susceptibility to more than one. In a strict comparison between the gateway hypothesis and CLA, the former was found to be more opportunistic than deterministic while the latter has a lot of scientific support from genetic and addiction-based research.
There is also a series of studies that simply point the finger of gateway theory away from cannabis, which is the most controversial of the debates, and instead toward alcohol. For example, an academic observation from the University of Florida in 2012 found that students who used alcohol exhibited up to a 16 times greater likelihood of subsequently using other licit and illicit substances. Researcher and Assistant Professor Adam Barry utilized comprehensive data to come to these conclusions, surveying almost 15,000 high school students across the U.S.
“By recognizing the important predictive role of alcohol and delaying initiation of alcohol use, school officials and public health leaders can positively impact the progression of substance use… By delaying and/or preventing the use of alcohol, these programs can indirectly reduce the rate of use of other substances,” said Barry.
Although the frameworks surrounding the causation and precursors of drug use still remain ambiguous, the implications of this research are far-reaching in terms of public health. Regardless of how a substance addiction begins, any unhealthy case of abuse should be addressed before it progresses too far. If you, a friend or a member of your family is stricken with a form dependency, contact the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline online or call 855-980-1736 to learn more about rehabs in Southern California and dual diagnosis treatment centers in California.