The gateway drug is a concept that has been around for decades. A gateway drug is defined as a drug that leads to the use of stronger, more dangerous drugs. Marijuana, alcohol, and prescription medications are the substances most-commonly referred to as gateway drugs.
These substances aren’t the only gateway drugs, but they are the ones most commonly used as the gateway into more dangerous substances. It’s easy for people to get started with marijuana, alcohol, or prescriptions because they are thought to be more socially acceptable. Having some beers on the weekend, smoking marijuana once in a while, or even taking prescription medications to cope has become the norm in recent years.
In fact, with the marijuana legalization movement, smoking marijuana has become more a part of everyday life for some people. These substances are often the gateway to addiction, but it’s important to remember that they alone are not addictive. Other factors such as environment, family history, and personal history must also be present to contribute to addictive behavior.
Contributing Factors to Addiction
Every person is different. What triggers substance abuse or addiction in one person, may not trigger it in another.
In regard to gateway drugs, some people may use them and then move on to more potent and more dangerous substances. While other people may use these substances heavily and never become addicted. However, if multiple risk factors are present, using gateway drugs can make a person more likely to become addicted.
If a person’s family has used drugs in the past they may be more likely to become addicted. Family history can indicate a genetic predisposition to substance abuse, and can also affect someone’s environment. If a person sees parents, relatives, and friends using these substances they are more likely to think they are acceptable and start using.
Pre-existing mental health problems may also cause a person to start using. This can be said for physical injuries as well. If someone is put on a prescription of medications that have the risk of addiction, they can slip into abusing them without even knowing it. Many times, with chronic mental and physical health issues, people turn to medication to relieve extremely uncomfortable symptoms.
A person’s peer group, or social circle, can also be very influential in whether or not they start using. As the saying goes “birds of a feather flock together”. It’s true. And it works just as well for negative habits as it does for positive ones. If someone is hanging out with a peer group where everyone smokes or drinks regularly, it’s only a matter of time before they go down the same path.
The age of a person when they first try a gateway drug factors into this as well. The younger someone gets exposed to gateway drugs and other substances, the more likely they are to normalize it. It will become part of their everyday life as they grow older.
How Addiction Works
As patients turn to their prescribed medications more and more, a tolerance develops. This means that a person starts to become accustomed to the medicine. When this happens they begin to need a higher dose to achieve the same desired result.
From tolerance, a person can slip into dependence. This is a psychological attachment to the medication. Oftentimes people will feel they “need” their medication to make it through daily life. This feeling of dependence can persist long after their original condition has been cured.
Once someone feels dependent upon the medication, it’s easy for them to slip into substance abuse or addiction. Constantly needing more and more of their drug of choice, they will begin to see other doctors to get extra prescriptions. If their drug of choice is marijuana, or alcohol, they will begin to devote all of their time and energy to getting their hands on it.
People in this stage will start to avoid their responsibilities in order to use their drug of choice. Problems at work and school will develop, and they may even start to experience serious issues in their relationships.
Once an addiction takes hold, it can be hard to stop. Sometimes, depending on the substance, stopping on your own can be bad for your health. The best decision someone can make is to get help from a team of medical professionals.
There are many treatment options available spanning the entire spectrum of addictions, from mild to severe. Taking advantage of medically-assisted recovery will only help a person’s recovery to last, and help them to avoid relapsing.
When it comes to gateway drugs, people tend to see them as harmless so they continue to use them as they transition into more powerful substances. If this is the case, a person may need to undergo dual diagnosis treatment.
Dual diagnosis treatment is when treatment for two different substances, or two different conditions, is given simultaneously. Many times, this type of treatment can be more challenging due to side effects, set backs, and a higher risk of relapse. But attacking both addictions separately enables medical professionals to attack it from all angles, and eventually discover the root cause of the addictive behavior.
The treatments given can contain a variety of techniques. Counselors and doctors may prescribe medicine, therapy, or a combination of both. Entering a 3rd party rehab facility, and having medical staff close by, is extremely important during recovery.
Withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous, if not deadly. Having staff on-hand to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms as they come can save lives. It also can ease the discomfort of recovery and prevent relapse.
If you, or someone you know, are going through a hard time with addiction, reach out to discuss your options. Talking to a counselor or doctor may give you a better idea of what resources are available to you and your family. Every person, and every addiction, is different and needs to be treated as such.
If you have any questions, or would like more resources about a particular addiction or treatment plan, contact Just Believe Recovery Detox. We can answer any questions you may have and point you in the right direction on the road to recovery.