Marijuana is nowhere near as potent of a gateway drug as many people believe. In fact, according to a recent study, pot use is actually a fairly unreliable predictor of future substance abuse.
Alcohol, on the other hand, can predict future substance abuse in youth with 92% accuracy. Surprised? Don’t be. Alcohol is poison. Health experts refer to it as the most dangerous drug on the planet. Its effect on the community are double that of heroin.
And now, thanks to the study I mentioned earlier, we know that alcohol is also one of the most potent gateway drugs out there.
According to Adam E. Barry, co-author of the study, high school seniors who use alcohol – even once – are 13 times more likely to use cigarettes and cocaine. Even teens who abuse pot likely started experimenting with alcohol first.
“I think [these results] have to do with [the] level of access children have to alcohol, and that alcohol is viewed as less harmful than some of these other substances,” Barry says.
Missing The Mark?
Could these findings change the way we approach substance abuse prevention? They could – but probably not anytime soon.
According to Barry, society’s view of marijuana as a dangerous gateway drug is deep-rooted. It goes way back to the 1930s ‘Reefer Madness’ era, when propagandists pushed marijuana as ‘the assassin of youth.’
“That’s why we wanted to study this,” Barry says. “The latest form of the gateway theory is that it begins with [marijuana] and moves on finally to what laypeople often call harder drugs.
As you can see from the findings of our study, it confirmed this gateway hypothesis, but it follows progression from licit substances, specifically alcohol, and moves on to illicit substances.”
In other words, we’ve got it all backwards.
The persistence of this viewpoint spells disaster at a time when governments are slashing social work budgets left, right and center. With such heavy emphasis on preventing marijuana use, the real issue – teen alcohol use – is being skirted over.
“If you take [our findings] and apply them to a school health setting, we believe that you are going to get the best bang for your buck by focusing on alcohol,” Barry concludes.