Skip to main content

Gateway Theory Debunked...Again

Submitted by smorgan on
A 12 year study from the university of Pittsburgh pokes yet another whole in the wet paper napkin known as the "gateway theory."


Investigators said that environmental factors (e.g., a greater exposure to illegal drugs in their neighborhoods) as well as subjects' "proneness to deviancy" were the two characteristics that most commonly predicted substance abuse.

"This evidence supports what's known as the common liability model ... [which] states [that] the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug, but instead by the user's individual tendencies and environmental circumstances," investigators stated in a press release. They added, "The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person's behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs."

No kidding. It's such a perfectly logical conclusion, it's hard to understand why anyone thought otherwise. Especially since one study after another has shown the exact same thing.

It shouldn't take 12 years of research by respected social scientists to tell us that trying one drug can't possibly have the psycho-pharmacological effect of making you want some different drug you've never tried before. Marijuana grows on trees. It's ubiquitous. That's why people try it first.

As for the "environmental factors" that actually are useful in predicting behavior, much thanks is owed to drug prohibition for creating a criminal subculture through which illicit drugs are widely available to young people. As a high school student, I had potential access to a far greater variety of drugs than I do now as professional drug policy reform activist. Alcohol was the one thing you couldn't get easily.

Inevitably, the "gateway theory" will not die a sudden death today. It will live on in the form of anecdotal accounts from marijuana "victims" whose progression into addiction will be taken out of context. It's a shame that so many people who are genuinely concerned about the drug problems facing America's youth nonetheless insist on misunderstanding basic facts about drug use.

Imagine the progress that could be achieved overnight if research such the Pittsburgh study were used to make policy.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.