Marijuana has typically been decried as a “gateway drug” that leads to more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. This argument has resurfaced as legalisation of marijuana in the US has become more likely. The problem with this argument is that it ignores a far more obvious culprit–alcohol.
Alcohol is the first substance used by about two thirds of people. Most of the remainder use tobacco first and a small percentage use marijuana first. Alcohol is legal and far more common. Even underage children and teens can get it pretty easily. And the younger they start drinking, the more likely they are to develop an alcohol use disorder later on. Most people who use other substances already drink regularly.
This has several important implications. First, later use of alcohol pushed back the use of other drugs too. People who start drinking a little later don’t branch out as quickly. That means they are less likely to try more dangerous drugs like heroin or cocaine and less likely to develop multiple addictions.
Another implication is that anyone addicted to stimulants, opioids, or other drugs, likely drinks too. In fact, they may be addicted to alcohol but don’t really notice because the other addiction is more destructive. Often people fall into the trap of thinking that, for example, cocaine is the real problem, when in fact, cocaine and alcohol are both problems.
As a result, people who try to quit the problem substance without quitting alcohol run into problems. Usually, drinking leads to relapse. Alcohol weakens your judgement and willpower. You get into situations you know you should avoid and you are more likely to give in to temptation. Also, since most people drink and use drugs together, those behaviours become linked. It then feels automatic to go from drinking to drug use because it’s a habit.
The other thing that sometimes happens is that someone will quit the drug and end up drinking more to compensate. They don’t treat the cause of the addiction, only one particular manifestation. As a result, the avenue that remains, alcohol, picks up the slack.
This is why quitting drugs almost always requires quitting alcohol too and why 12 Step programmes insist on it. Alcohol isn’t just the gateway to new drugs; it’s also the gateway to relapse. If you are serious about getting sober, you have to treat the root cause of addiction. You also have to avoid triggers, of which alcohol is the biggest.
Smarmore Castle Private Clinic in County Louth, near Dublin was founded in 1988 as a residential rehabilitation hospital treating people suffering from drug and alcohol purposes. Smarmore Castle believes in helping patients lead a life of abstinence through 12 Step programmes, detox and medical treatment, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies. For more information, please call 041-214-5111. For those who live out of the country, the international number is 00353-41-214-5111.
Last updated & clinically assessed 26 March, 2021