Gateway drugs are defined as any mood-altering substance, as a stimulant or tranquilizer that does not cause physical dependence but may lead to the use of addictive drugs, such as heroin by The Random House Dictionary.
True, the vast majority of people who are addicted to harder drugs (such as heroin, cocaine or amphetamines) did begin their use with marijuana. Still, this fact does not address all the people who smoke marijuana recreationally, never moving up to harder drugs. Think of the saying: “All mochas are lattes, but not all lattes are mochas.” Saying that everyone who uses marijuana will become a drug addict is like saying all lattes are mochas. To believe that smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, or even smoking cigarettes leads to using addictive drugs is to sweep under the rug all the mood-altering preliminary behaviors that are addictive in and of them selves.
Six young men currently living in our recovery community for substance abuse shared about their lives before they began using drugs. Each of their stories had a commonality; their mood-altering behavior began before they had ever picked up a drink or a drug.
Mike (all names are changed for anonymity purposes) recalled that he began stealing around the age of eleven after a move to another city. He described feeling separate and alone, wanting to be a part of and he began to steal. “Stealing gave me an intense rush, it made me feel alive, almost in control, like I had gotten away with something.” He described the relief he felt as a result; he felt more a part of his peer group, like he belonged. “I felt a sense of pride that I could go and get what I wanted. Pretty soon I felt like I had to steal, I couldn’t stop, I didn’t want to.” Mike’s family moved once more and he recalled keeping his feelings bottled inside. Again, he had more emotions associated with feeling separate and alone and soon began using alcohol and then drugs. He describes the same sense of relief from alcohol and drugs that he received from stealing.
Randall described something similar. At eight he began cheating and bullying kids at school, lying and expressing intense anger. “I was a bully, that’s how I was known. I liked it, the attention of being that kid.” But at home he remembers clearly, being a different person. “I liked playing those games. When I was playing sports, when I was at school, when I was at home, a friend’s house, everywhere I went I was someone else.”
He remembers wanting to be known, and never feeling like he had that. When he bullied he described the feelings and the relief. “I felt an adrenaline rush, an excitement. I had the feeling that I knew I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m going to do it anyways. I’m above the rules. I had no intention of changing, I was hooked.” Randall also described other escaping behaviors such as playing video games for hours, daydreaming and then eventually drinking and drugs.
Only six young men of the eighty-five in the New Life House recovery community spoke about their history prior to becoming substance abusers – but that’s because only six were asked. No doubt almost every other young man will have a similar experience and shares the feeling of having their mood altered while engaging in these behaviors and a relief from the feelings of being separate and alone. This is exactly how every addict feels when he uses drugs and alcohol, a sense of ease and comfort, relief from the challenges and emotions that haunt him.
So the suggestion is this, when thinking about a gateway drug, go back, way back. A gateway drug doesn’t necessarily mean marijuana. It started before you knew it started. The good news is….there is a solution!