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Gateway Drugs Can Open Doors
to More Serious Drug Involvement

Why are there continuous articles and programs discussing the dangers of gateway drugs? The use of alcohol and/or tobacco (cigarettes and chewing tobacco) can open the door of curiosity to other drugs like marijuana, crack, and inhalants. Scientists are gathering evidence that tobacco and its key ingredient, nicotine, may open the way to more serious drug and alcohol use as reported by the National Institute of Drug/Alcohol (NIDA) Notes, Summer/Fall 1991.

Smoking may not be a specific cause of drug and alcohol use, but it presents powerful preventable risk factors preceding drug and alcohol use. Three characteristics are present:

1) nicotine, a powerful addicting drug, 2) cigarette smoking, a learned behavior and 3) nicotine that regulates mood and behavior, relieving stress and boredom.

Vincent Burfalino of the Chicago Tribune (10/31/95) exposed the marketing hook that tobacco companies use to aggressively advertise to children. They promote T-shirts, baseball caps, and cigarette lighters.

Inhalants are another curiosity step that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) vapors in youth ages 7 to 17. These forms of sniffing. They are found in expensive solvents, aerosols, some anesthetics and other chemicals. Examples are model air plane glue, nail polish remover, lighter and cleaning fluids, and gasoline.

Alcohol research suggests that alcohol use tends to increase the chance of using cigarettes and marijuana. According to a Gallup Youth Survey (5/97) alcohol is creeping back up in popularity. Most young alcohol users start drinking in the critical age period between 13 and 16. Alcohol use indicates an increasing pattern of alcohol and other drug use. The alarming trends in the greater use of alcohol and tobacco among youth are due, at least in part, to extensive advertising campaigns.

Most important, as parents, continue the honest discussion of the dangers of these drugs. Encourage youth to share their concerns and questions. Remember to listen. This sends an important message to your youth that you care.

For further information, contact the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at (800) 729-6686 or Prevention First at (800) 252-8951.

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