Are Cigarettes a Gateway Drug?

Many parents worry that alcohol and marijuana can be gateways to the use of harder drugs. However, there are 3 gateway drugs to be aware of. Along with alcohol and marijuana, teens and parents must acknowledge the effect a nicotine addiction has on a young adult. Smoking cigarettes at a young age can most definitely lead to experimenting with other addictive substances down the road. Few parents realize the impact that a nicotine addiction, casual use of alcohol and marijuana are all equal contributors of being ‘gateway drugs’.

Effects of Smoking on the Teen Brain

The CASA paper also dove into the effects of smoking on the brain. The changes created by nicotine make a teen’s brain more susceptible to the pleasurable effects of drugs and alcohol. Here are some of the changes that occur:

  • The brain’s receptors for nicotine increase when smoking, making it more likely for nicotine addiction to develop and making it harder for your teen to stop smoking once they start
  • Brain receptors are also altered, which increases the chances of cravings for other drugs
  • Serotonin receptors change, which increases the chance of depression when not smoking
  • Dopamine levels increase which makes the “reward” response of substance use more intense and enticing.

Given the effects of smoking on the teen brain, there clearly is a reason to be concerned. With the teenage brain in development, any negative impact can potentially lead to harmful, long-term consequences. Hence, teenagers with a nicotine addiction need to be educated on this topic. Even more-so than teens themselves, parents should also educate themselves so they can better educate their children.

Teen Smoking and Addiction Statistics

Statistics provided by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health say that teens who smoke cigarettes are five times more likely to drink. They are also 13 times more likely to abuse marijuana and seven times more likely to abuse drugs like cocaine and heroin. Alcohol abuse and addiction is nine times higher than non-smoking peers. Therefore, the medical criteria for drug abuse and addiction is 13 times higher than that of non-smoking peers.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) released, “Tobacco: The Smoking Gun.” It supports the idea that drug and alcohol abuse is increased by teenage smoking. It also reports that smokers age 12–17 are twice as likely as non-smokers to experience symptoms of clinical depression. This can manifest as feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Find Help for Your Teen

Joseph A. Califano, Jr. is the chairman and president of CASA, shared this concern in a press release. “These findings sound an alarm for parents, teachers, pediatricians, and others responsible for children’s health that smoking by teens may well signal the fire of alcohol and other drug abuse and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders. We have known for a long time that smoking causes deadly and crippling cancers and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Now we see the devastating effects that nicotine can have on the developing brains of our children and teens.”

Every day, about 4,000 teenagers smoke a cigarette for the first time. If your teen is smoking, take measures to help them quit. If drug and alcohol abuse becomes an issue, don’t wait to enroll them in an adolescent program. Contact Newport Academy today to learn more about teens and substance abuse or to get help with treatment options.