As they move through their teenage years and approach early adulthood, individuals begin to rely less upon others and more upon themselves for their welfare; they begin to explore many of the responsibilities and privileges that are granted to adults. Part of this includes making good decisions for one’s own life–especially decisions about what is safe and acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, many teenagers today feel that one safe and acceptable choice they have is to participate in drug use, and it appears that gateway drugs may be at least partly to blame.
What is a Gateway Drug
A “gateway drug” is any “soft” drug whose use leads to the use of other “hard” drugs. How this works is explained by the very cycle of drug use, tolerance, dependence and addiction. Whatever the reason for why drug use is initiated, the individual then determines whether drugs are helpful and should be used again. Continued drug use forces the human body to cope with the presence of these chemicals as best as it can. The first way it does this is by adapting to them so that the same quantity of the same kinds of drugs no longer produce the same effects. This is referred to as tolerance, and it is normally “handled” by the individual increasing their drug intake, or even switching to other, more potent drug substances. Each new amount and type of drugs is tolerated, creating a vicious and dangerous cycle that quickly leads toward dependence and addiction.
Drug dependence occurs when the body completely adapts to the presence of drugs and includes drugs in its normal patterns of functioning, essentially depending upon drugs in order to continue functioning normally. The individual moves into addiction when they compulsively continue their drug use despite experiencing adverse consequences.
At any point during the drug use, tolerance, dependence and addiction cycle, the individual may decide that a solution to their problem is to switch to more potent drug substances. This is where “soft” drug use can cause serious issues for the individual–it can incorrectly convey to the individual the idea that drug use is safe and acceptable, so they don’t feel much concern about switching to “hard” drug use. Unfortunately, this is part of current teen drug culture.
Gateway Drugs and Teen Drug Culture
Current teen drug culture not only condones but even encourages the casual use of what are commonly considered to be gateway drugs. Examples of gateway drugs include alcohol, marijuana and similar drugs. These drugs are largely seen as safe, legal and socially acceptable, and are therefore often viewed as appropriate to experiment with. Teens who hear “horror stories” related to these drugs often assume that these stories are fake or exaggerated, as they know plenty of people who are using these drugs without any apparent ill effects.
The teen drug culture is so compelling that even individuals who indicate that they aren’t interested in or are even opposed to drug use can find themselves pulled into the use of gateway drugs. Again, the key factor here is the use of drug substances that are viewed as safe, legal and socially acceptable. The individual may even rationalize away real or imagined dangers by asserting that harm only came from excessive or inappropriate drug use, and their drug use is minimal and well-controlled. Unfortunately, many individuals who have suffered at the hands of drug dependence and addiction can attest to the fact that they too once said they had their drug use under control and would never have a problem. Gateway drugs are potentially some of the most dangerous drugs a teen could ever be exposed to–simply because they can lead to further, more potent drug use but are seen as a safe way to have fun and experiment.