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Father taking to teeenagerGateway drugs is a phrase that typically refers to substances that lead to more addictive and harmful drugs. Gateway drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana may seem like potentially harmless substances, but in fact, often lead to a pathway towards serious addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disease that impacts an individual’s ability to lead a healthy and fulfilling life and, if not successfully recovered from, can lead to a multitude of chronic health problems. Using gateway drugs leads to an array of serious addiction problems that may persist throughout life.

According to researchers at Columbia University, teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who use gateways drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana are 266 times more likely to use cocaine than those who do not use gateway drugs. This astonishing figure makes it evident that gateway drugs are extremely harmful and can lead to an intense addiction to more destructive substances.


Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system and consequently, impairs a person’s thinking, judgement, and behavior. Alcohol disrupts the pathways in the brain, has detrimental effects on the heart and liver if consumed in large amounts, and can increase an individual’s risk of getting cancer.

People consume alcohol for social purposes or to deal with social and environmental stressors. Alcoholism is developed from a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Individuals may use alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with everyday, difficult situations or depressed feelings.

Because alcohol impairs an individual’s judgment, it can often lead to risky behaviors that lead to the use of more harmful substances. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, individuals who are dependent upon alcohol are three times more likely to smoke. Research has shown that alcohol and tobacco are considered gateways drugs and are often times, used by adolescents prior to more harmful drugs. These destructive drugs may include cocaine, marijuana, opioid painkillers, or heroin.


Research has shown that the addictive component in nicotine has become a gateway drug to more harmful substances, such as cocaine. According to the National Institute of Health, “over 90% of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine.”

Studies on rats have shown that nicotine “modifies DNA structure through a process called histone acetylation. The changes affect FosB expression.” The results of the study have shown that FosB, a gene found in rats and humans, has been shown to be linked to cocaine addiction and may have similar effects in humans. Evidently, research indicates that nicotine is a gateway drug to destructive substances, such as cocaine and marijuana.


Marijuana is an illicit drug that when smoked, may have harmful effects on an individual’s memory, thinking, and behavior. Research has shown that marijuana is the most widely-used illicit drug in the United States, especially among adolescents. When smoked, marijuana releases THC that acts on multiple cell receptors in the brain that are responsible for normal brain functioning.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, law enforcement officials have found that most heroin and cocaine addicts have often started their initial drug use with marijuana. Research has shown that people who begin using marijuana during adolescence increase their likelihood to become dependent on more destructive substances such as heroin and cocaine as adults.

Individuals who use gateway or illicit drugs must dedicate themselves to treatment so that they can fully recover from their addiction and live a healthy life again.

A Whole-person Approach

Because gateway drugs can lead to more destructive substances and can have detrimental effects on the user, it is essential for individuals to seek treatment. Gateway drugs can cause people to become mentally and physically dependent on more illicit drugs and individuals use these drugs to self-medicate during struggling moments or to battle the symptoms from a psychological disorder. Choosing a treatment center that focuses on a “whole-person approach” and is equipped in helping individuals with co-occurring disorders is the essential foundation to recovering from drug addiction.

Effective treatment for drug addiction that includes an individually designed treatment plan, individual and group therapy sessions, and a wide-range of program options administers hope to the individual to fully recover from their drug addiction.

When choosing the right treatment center, individuals must look for a facility that focuses on the “whole-person approach” to helping patients fully restore their mind, body, and spirit from addiction.

Covenant Hills Treatment is a faith-based addiction treatment facility in Orange County, California and San Antonio, Texas. Covenant Hills emphasizes a whole person approach to care and clients work with pastors, therapists, and counselors who are professionally trained in the Christian-based treatment program. Staff help individuals connect to a larger community of God and support the process of finding purpose again in one’s life beyond this co-occurring diagnosis.

Making the call to Covenant Hills will help you find your life’s true purpose and will ultimately save you from addiction. Please call us today at (800) 662-2873. This is a free, confidential call and assessment. One simple call can change your life.