Marijuana is commonly referred to as the ‘gateway drug,’ that is the drug that people try first before moving on to experiment with harder drugs. It has been an argument that many who are against marijuana legalization have used in defense of their stance. While it may be true that most people who progress to drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, have used marijuana at one time or another, it does not mean that it should be branded the gateway drug. In fact, new research points to another substance, one that is far more pervasive and legal than marijuana, The Washington Post reports. If you were thinking alcohol, then you would be correct.
Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida analyzed Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data from 2,800 U.S. 12th graders, according to the article. The findings indicated that “the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.” The researchers point out that teenagers were the least likely to smoke marijuana before using alcohol or cigarettes.
Alcohol is legal throughout the United States, and while the substance is generally considered to be somehow different than other mind altering substances, the fact of the matter is that alcohol is an addictive drug – one that can produce equal amounts of hardship for the individuals who imbibe. The researchers concluded:
“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.”
Determining which addictive substance that teens use first is important, but the researchers point out that when people start using may be even more important. They found adolescents who drank for the first time in the 6th or 7th grade would then use on average nearly two illegal drugs later, the article reports. The researchers write:
“Overall, early onset substance initiation, whether that is alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, exerts a powerful influence over future health risk behaviors.”
The findings were published in the Journal of School Health.