Most people at least dabble with alcohol and/or cigarettes before they ever try weed. At least that’s the case with anyone born before, I don’t know, 1995? Yet pot always seems to take the rap for being the number one gateway drug. Is it that people have blocked out the memory of that childhood rite of passage of breaking into the parents’ liquor cabinet or stealthily stealing one cigarette at a time from Mom’s secret stash in the dining room side table’s far right drawer? (Okay, the latter is very specifically my childhood rite of passage.)
I’m not sure why pot wears the scapegoat mantle—perhaps because pot is not 100% legal like alcohol is after a certain age and because it’s more commonly associated with the term “drugs” than booze? I just know we’ve all the idiom “Marijuana is a gateway drug.”
In case you don’t believe me about booze being the real culprit, The Washington Post published a story reporting that despite pot’s strides, alcohol is still the go-to for adolescents across America who’ve reached that crucial moment in life when they realize they can numb their feelings or escape reality with something besides Hershey’s and Nerds.
It’s Not a Matter of What But a Matter of When
The story stemmed from recent research released from a team at Texas A&M and the University of Florida who studied the yearly Monitoring the Future survey and then published their findings in the Journal of School Health. Based on the responses of 2,800 high school seniors, they determined that not only is alcohol the true gateway to everything else but also that the age at which a kid starts imbibing or using can be much more significant than the drug of choice.
According to the Post’s coverage of the report, “Kids who had their first drink in 6th or 7th grade went on to try an average nearly two illicit substances later. By contrast, kids who waited until 12th grade to drink had only tried an average of 0.4 substances.” Now keep in mind, these conclusions are based on a study of 17 to 18-year-olds. Who knows what extracurricular activities they will have moved on to five to 10 years from now? There was another report based on “Monitoring the Future” results that claims pot is definitely surpassing tobacco on college campuses at least. And Lord knows they’re probably popping pills more than ever.
The Writing’s on the Genetic Wall
But doesn’t the likelihood of whether or not kids will move on to more illicit substances the earlier they drink depend on environment and genes, too? The answer is yes. If someone’s an alcoholic, chances are it was going to manifest whether they started at 12 or 22. In fact, the author even points out, “The most likely scenario is that the causality works both ways: drinking early makes kids more likely to try other drugs, and kids inclined to try other drugs are also predisposed to experiment with alcohol early.”
I know plenty of people who were the “bad kids” (“fast crowd?” you get it) in middle school that were trying all sorts of stuff most of us wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, who turned out to be upstanding citizens that stick to just drinking in moderation while watching their favorite sports team on the weekend. Of course, born addict or not, using or drinking too much too soon can still be detrimental, you know, ‘cause of stunting brain development and what not.
Why Not Weed?
But back to weed versus alcohol. How did alcohol get to be the gateway? It really does seem bizarre that weed was stigmatized for so long while alcohol has been an accepted cultural staple for so many decades. On a surface level, alcohol abuse seems to have way worse side effects—why is the substance that causes violence and car wrecks more readily available than the one that makes people mellow and possibly glued to their futon? There is also the whole debate about whether pot is even addictive.
Then again, it depends on the person. I’m starting to say that phrase “depends on the person” ad nauseam in everything I write about drugs and alcohol but I stand by it. Everyone reacts differently to a hit of pot or a sip of liquor so who am I, or anyone else, to say which one is worse? I certainly didn’t get mellow when I smoked pot (hello, full-on paranoia and panic attacks!) and there are people who can throw back a few pints of beer yet remain of sound mind or even more pleasant.
Gateway Or Just -ism?
Also, not everyone who enters the gateway of alcohol or weed will go on to use other drugs. It’s feasible that “other drugs” just happen when someone reaches the pinnacle of whatever substance they’re currently abusing and doesn’t take a step back or quit entirely. Or they just hit a really bad bump in the road that makes them want to slam a little dose of any and everything to escape the pain. Seems like the true gateway is untreated alcoholism and addiction, or just a serious slap in the face from life. Whether it’s wine or weed at 15 or 35, those who were going to pass through the gate were most likely going to do so regardless.