What Is the Definition of a Gateway Drug? | Yellowstone Recovery

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What Is the Definition of a Gateway Drug?

What Is A Gateway DrugGateway drugs are considered those drugs that are easily accessible by young people and which can be a precursor to trying other drugs later in life. This concept is often referred to as the “Gateway Drug Theory” from research and studies on tweens and teens. The three drugs considered gateway drugs are:

1. Tobacco
– Cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, and cigars. Some studies have suggested that e-cigarettes should also be considered a gateway drug when used by tweens and teens.

2. Alcohol – Beer, wine, wine coolers, hard liquor, and mixed drinks containing varying amounts of alcohol.

3. Marijuana – Using marijuana in its various forms, such as in snacks or smoking it.


The “Gateway Drug Theory” suggests introducing one or more of the above drugs into a tween’s or teen’s life can lead to experimentation with other types of drugs in the future. In addition, by consuming one or more of the gateway drugs on a regular basis, it creates a higher likelihood the individual will be more open to trying another drug.

According to CASA (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse), tweens’ and teens’ usage of gateway drugs has a strong correlation with experimenting with and using other drugs, as follows:

• 12- to 17-year-olds who smoked cigarettes and/or drank alcohol within the past 30 days, at least once, and had no other behavior problems, were 30 times more likely to try marijuana.

• 12- to 17-year-olds with no other behavior problems, who drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes and marijuana within the past 30 days, were 17 times more likely to try another drug like LSD, cocaine, or heroin.

• 89% of cocaine users first used all three gateway drugs as tweens and teens.

• 12- to 17-year-olds who only used tobacco were 19 times more likely to experiment with another drug.

• 12- to 17-year-olds who only drank alcohol were 50 times more likely to experiment with other drugs.

• 12- to 17-year-olds who only smoked marijuana were 85 times more likely to try other drugs.

• 12- to 17-year-olds using all three gateway drugs were 266 times likelier to try and use cocaine or other drugs while still an adolescent.

• Tweens and teens have a greater risk of developing an addiction to alcohol and drugs, based on the age they started using gateway drugs.

• For every year a gateway drug is used on a regular basis during adolescence, the risks for substance abuse and addiction increases.

• Furthermore, 90% of individuals with an addiction to alcohol, tobacco products, marijuana, or other drugs were already using gateway drugs before reaching their eighteenth birthday.

Gateway Drugs Used During Adolescence Can Result In Addiction

As you can see, trying gateway drugs or using them on a regular basis, especially during adolescence, can result in addictions to these, as well as to other drugs. If you suspect your tween or teen is experimenting with or becoming addicted to gateway drugs, help is available from affordable Orange County treatment centers, like here at Yellowstone Recovery. Call us at (888) 941-9048 for more information about our programs and how we can help you!



  1. https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gateway-drug-theory
  2. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/cigarettes-alcohol-marijuana-gateways-drugs-use
  3. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-prevention/teenage-addiction


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