Debunking the Myth that Cannabis Is the #1 Gateway Drug
I was thinking back to my high school days. In particular, a memory of a talk in the school hall about the danger of harder drugs told by a recovering addict. That's where the term "gateway drug" became part of my vocabulary, specifically in relation to cannabis. This gateway drug idea was true on my part -- I firmly embraced the culture of marijuana at a young age. But my first drug encounter was with alcohol at the tender age of 13.
Cannabis often foreshadows a path to harder, more addictive drugs like amphetamines, opiates, and opioids. However, because of this biased perspective, alcohol goes under the radar entirely, and this substance causes more severe, long-lasting damage.
I want to put the record straight and debunk the myth that cannabis is the primary gateway drug -- according to some studies, alcohol is.1 I hope that people stop minimizing the role alcohol plays in addiction to other drugs.
Cannabis Has a Worse Reputation than Alcohol as a Gateway Drug
Whether it's the neverending war on drugs or a politician repeating unscientific rhetoric, cannabis has a somewhat problematic perception. Without a doubt -- alcohol has a much better public relations department. It even manages to flout health advertising warnings, as seen on tobacco products. Yet, in reality, alcohol has little to no medicinal benefits.
Think about this subtle difference. While alcohol poisoning sounds frightening, it's never referred to as an overdose, which is what that amounts to. And alcohol has long-lasting health consequences for addicts, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.2
This Is an honest Statement About Alcohol as a Gateway Drug
I'll hold my hand up and admit that I have a history of cannabis use and was a daily smoker in my teens and twenties. The truth is that marijuana does have physical and mental health implications when abused -- it's not a harmless substance. In my opinion, though, the downsides compared to alcohol aren't the same league.
As an alcoholic, I was never worried about cannabis or other substances at the beginning of my recovery journey. That's because my drug of choice was everywhere -- TV ads, billboards, and football advertising boards, to name a few. But more concerning -- I could relapse within minutes with a trip to the local shop. I'll discuss this issue and why we need more conversations about alcohol as a drug.
Reframing Alcohol as the Primary Gateway Drug
What does any of this have to do with recovery? Admittedly, it does feel like I'm preaching to the choir. But as an alcoholic in recovery, it's my responsibility to highlight the dangers of my drug of choice. I'm not suggesting a ban on alcohol or endorsing cannabis; I'm saying that, as a society, let's be more honest about our collective drug use and how alcohol plays a role as a gateway drug.
Alcohol is a drug -- and it's time to start referring to it as such, noting how it influences progression to harder drugs and the broader discussion of addiction and recovery.
- Kirby, T., & Barry, A. E. (2012). Alcohol as a Gateway Drug: A Study of US 12th Graders. Journal of School Health, 82(8), 371–379. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2012.00712.
- Rehm, J. (2011). The Risks Associated With Alcohol Use and Alcoholism. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3307043/
Armstrong, M. (2023, July 5). Debunking the Myth that Cannabis Is the #1 Gateway Drug, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2023/7/debunking-the-myth-that-cannabis-is-the-1-gateway-drug