Marijuana is often pinned as the “gateway drug” for substance abuse cases, but researchers have found that tobacco is more than twice as likely to lead children into using illicit drugs. Alcohol consumption puts children at an even greater risk, with a nearly quadruple chance of acting as a gateway drug compared to marijuana.
The study published in the Journal of School Health examined data from the 2,800 American 12th graders interviewed in Monitoring the Future, an annual federal survey for teen drug use. Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida report discovering that “the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.”
“Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use,” the study concludes. Researchers also found that adolescents who drank at a younger age went on to use illicit drugs more frequently than those who waited.
Of the three main substances purported to be “gateway drugs,” marijuana emerged as the one least likely to result in the use of hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. In fact, a separate analysis conducted by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs found that alcohol is objectively more harmful than any other drug available today.
Both studies echo the need to raise awareness regarding the effects of alcohol. According to Angelo Valente, alcohol remains as the drug of choice for younger teens, and is the most prevalent cause of substance abuse in the world. “We’re not hearing as much about the issue of alcohol abuse and alcohol use among minors, but I certainly think that we need to continue to be diligent about keeping that message up,” he states.