What Is a Gateway Drug?
A gateway drug is a drug that opens the door to the use of other, harder drugs. Gateway drugs are typically inexpensive and readily available.
While there is no guarantee that a youngster will make the leap from gateway drugs to far more toxic and dangerous drugs such as methamphetamines, cocaine, or heroin, research suggests that in the majority of the cases they will not. Still, who wants to roll the dice with their youngster’s health and future happiness? Most addicts began their downward spiral with the gateway drugs; very few youngsters or adults jump right into hard drugs. Keeping children free and clear of the gateway substances for as long as possible is your mission.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, “Tobacco use is associated with alcohol and illicit drug use and is generally the first drug used by young people who enter a sequence of drug use that can include tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, the younger a child starts smoking, the more addicted s/he becomes. The U.S. Department of Education echoes the CDC findings. Its report, “Youth and Tobacco,” says people who “begin to smoke at an early age are more likely to develop severe levels of nicotine addiction than those who start at a later age.”
Tobacco use is also a gateway for other negative behaviors, not just more dangerous drug taking. “Cigarette smokers are also more likely to get into fights, carry weapons, attempt suicide, and engage in high-risk sexual behaviors,” say government researchers.
How do you persuade children against taking that first puff? Chances are you, as a parent, will have difficulty convincing your child to avoid cigarettes. The enticement is very strong. Often it takes another authority figure, such as a D.A.R.E. officer, to counterbalance the negative peer pressure exerted on young kids.
A Gallup poll found that 75 percent of the students who graduated from the D.A.R.E. program had never tried a cigarette. While drug prevention programs and educators can explain why tobacco (and the other gateway drugs) can have a long-term impact on children’s lives if they start using today, you, as the parent, are the primary influence.
Your anti-cigarette message to your child must start early and be reinforced regularly.
Focus on short-term consequences and the effect on appearance.
Explain how, over time, it hurts them.
using the D.A.R.E. fact sheet.
Find creative ways to illustrate the dangers of tobacco use.
Kick your own smoking habit or level with your kids about it.
Make them aware that secondhand smoke is harmful; kids should not associate with smokers.
Talk about advertising and media messages that promote smoking.
Explain what withdrawal feels like.
Research shows that by age eighteen, when most kids graduate from high school, 90 percent of them have experimented with alcohol. Only a small percentage abstain. A smaller percentage become addicted and need help.
Take a minute and think how often adults drink alcohol: a cold beer at a baseball game, a glass of Chardonnay with a piece of broiled fish, a gin and tonic on a warm day. Social drinking is an acceptable and pleasurable activity for millions of Americans. It relaxes you, curbs stress, and chases away inhibitions, but if it becomes a regular mechanism to escape troubles and to feel good, it can be an abuse, a dependency, and a severe problem for millions of Americans.
While experts say kids are not inclined to drink alcohol on their own, many will imitate a parent who overindulges or will go along with peers who offer it to them. In fact, once they start, children end up drinking abusively for the same reason as their parents – to cope with anxiety or stress, to manage their moods, and to release inhibitions so they can become more sociable (translation: to forget their troubles and to have fun).
Drinking at an Early Age
Children are drinking at a younger age. The fact is that alcohol – and any other illegal drug – is very addictive to a child’s underdeveloped central nervous system. Statistics show:
Junior and high school students drink 35 percent of all the wine coolers in the U.S.
Binge drinking – consumption of five or more drinks at one sitting – is reported as early as the eighth grade.
Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years of age.
Half of all youthful deaths in drowning, fires, suicide, and homicide are alcohol related.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a survey of high school seniors, found that 2.5 million respondents did not know they could die of alcohol poisoning.
Your message to your child must be simple and clear-cut: Drinking beer, wine, or distilled spirits is only for grownups who drink responsibly. Underage drinking is not only breaking the law, but also can seriously injure your health, your future success, your friendships, and possibly even kill you. Couch it in terms they can relate to by using the D.A.R.E. fact sheet.
Here are some other things parents can do to keep their children off alcohol until they are at least of legal drinking age:
Be an exemplary role model.
Establish a two-way dialogue with your children about drinking, whether you imbibe or not.
Know the facts about alcohol use and abuse and discuss them with your children.
Offer loving but firm advice with clear boundaries and consequences by setting down firm guidelines.
Set a rule that your child must never drink and drive.
Be prepared for other families having different standards of acceptable behavior.
Do not joke about alcoholism or drunken behavior.
While alcohol is a gateway drug that can lead to other, stronger chemical dependencies, it has its own addiction: alcoholism. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that only gets worse by drinking irresponsibly.