Narrow Default Wide
Blue Colour Green Colour Orange Colour Red Colour

Gateway Drugs

                 GATEWAY DRUGS


Drugs are a dead-end decision that can limit your teenager’s potential and possibilities.  No child is immune to the impact of substance abuse. Gateway drugs are substances that, when used, greatly increase the risk of experimentation with other harmful drugs or substances – they can act as a gateway to other forms of substance abuse.  As the teenage brain is still developing, use of drugs or alcohol can cause permanent intellectual and emotional damage.  One out of four teenagers who use drugs or alcohol will become addicted.  


  • Young people are more vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol on the parts of the brain that regulate memory and learning. Brain cells can be destroyed that are not regenerated.

  • Teenagers who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until age 21. Children of alcoholics have a four to ten time’s greater risk of becoming addicted than children of non-alcoholics.

  • One 12 oz. beer has the same amount of alcohol as 1.5 ounces of whiskey, 5 ounces of wine or a wine cooler.

  • Teenagers are less sensitive to the sedation effects of alcohol which can result in greater cognitive impairment, brain damage and sometimes alcohol poisoning.  In addition, the common practice of “chugging” drinks can be fatal as it raises the blood-alcohol level rapidly and can result in alcohol coma and vomit aspiration.

  • Alcohol-related auto accidents are the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-24. Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and is involved in over half of fire deaths, drownings, injuries, traffic fatalities and murders in the U.S.

  • Date rape occurrence increases when one or both parties are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.


  • Today’s marijuana is approximately 300% more potent than that used in the 1960s and 1970s and can result in addiction!

  • Marijuana is often cut with fillers that can contain other drugs such as PCP or opiates so users may not be prepared for the impact created by these other substances.

  • THC, the active chemical in marijuana, can stay in the body for a month or more depending on the amount and frequency of use.  THC is stored in the brain, liver, testes, ovaries and other fatty organs. Frequent use can result in decreased sperm count and sperm motility in men and irregular ovulation and menstrual cycles in women.

  • Marijuana use inhibits short-term memory and comprehension, alters sense of time, slows reactions, and reduces the ability to perform tasks that require concentration and coordination.  Frequent use can result in long-term impact of one’s ability to think abstractly and understand more complex concepts. Marijuana use results in the same health risks as smoking cigarettes.

  • Over 100 different synthetic cannabinoids have been created.  “Spice” or K2 is a botanical that is sprayed with a pharmaceutical cannabinoid.  When smoked or ingested, this substance can produce a significant high with prolonged effects.  K2 possession or use became illegal in Missouri in 2010.

  • K2 use is not safe, though teens may believe otherwise.  Use of synthetic marijuana can cause kidney damage, lung dysfunction, increased blood pressure/heart issues, GI problems, seizures and chemically induced psychosis.


  • Nicotine is a physically addicting drug that produces withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped and may prime the brain for addiction to other substances.  A teen using 2 to 3 cigarettes per day can become dependent in as little as two weeks.

  • Teens who smoke are three more times likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to use marijuana and 22 more times likely to use cocaine.

  • Teenagers are at greater risk for cell damage in the memory bank of the brain, cardiac irregularities, breathing disorders and impaired lung growth, sleep disruption, episodes of depression and quicker nicotine dependence than adults. Physical fitness is impacted both in terms of performance and endurance.

  • Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff and e-cigarettes all contain nicotine as well as numerous chemicals which are known carcinogens. E-cigarettes are considered by some to be safer than tobacco products; however, exposure to known carcinogens and toxic chemicals still remains a concern due to the vapors inhaled.  In addition, nicotine addiction is not avoided by use of these devices.  Youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to transition into smoking traditional cigarettes.  


  • Teens may choose to inhale common household items such as glue, cleaning fluids, paint thinner, aerosol products and other solvents as they are inexpensive and readily available.

  • Inhalants can cause heart failure or damage the kidneys, liver or brain.

  • Death can occur upon first use, usually due to asphyxia or suffocation.

Reviewed and edited May 2016 by Patricia Doherty, Masters Degree in Counseling and Retired U.S. Probation Officer



                                                                                   GATEWAY DRUGS

                                         IMPACT/SIGNS OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE/STRATEGIES

Use of mood-altering substances during the developmental years stunts social and emotional development; which results in risky behavior, poor judgment and a lack of understanding of the consequences of actions.  Repeated use of drugs or alcohol changes

the brain.  Areas of the brain that impact critical judgment, decision-making, learning, memory and impulse control are impacted. The ability to plan, meet goals and complete tasks is also impacted.  Overblown and immature emotional responses as well as increased risk-taking are additional effects.  Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines can impact impulse control and the ability to experience reward impulses in the brain for life. How can you raise a drug-free child?  Realize that no child is immune to making the choice to use nicotine, drugs or alcohol. Though peers play a significant role in the teenage decision-making process, parents’ guidance and love can still play a significant role in deterring substance abuse. It is important that clear expectations are set relative to these risky behaviors and the lines of communication remain open.  An atmosphere of trust is essential but parents should still be proactive in verifying teens’ plans and being aware of peer relationships.  An educated parent relative to activity choices and friends gives the parent the ability to guide their child more effectively with love and concern.  Though teenagers are learning to be more independent, they still require boundaries and guidance. If your child is involved in substance abuse, changes in behavior may occur subtly over time which is more difficult to identify or the changes may be dramatic.  While it is difficult to distinguish typical adolescent behavior from drug related behaviors, you should consider substance abuse if you notice several of the below noted changes in your child:

Changes in physical appearance:

  • Messy appearance or lack of hygiene

  • Bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, circles under eyes, frequent use of eye drops, use of sunglasses when unnecessary

  • Runny nose, congestion, coughing

Changes in eating and sleeping habits:

  • Difficulty falling asleep, insomnia, inappropriate napping

  • Significant weight gain or loss, poor appetite, sudden increase in appetite

Changes in friends and interests:

  • New friends who use drugs or alcohol or who are much older

  • Lack of introduction of friends and friends seldom come to your house

  • Excessive time spent in their room or away from home, secrecy relative to actions and possessions, curfew disregard

  • Hobbies, sports or extra-curricular activities are given up; indicate that everything is “boring”

Attitudes towards drugs and alcohol:

  • Pro-drug/alcohol messages on posters, clothes, notebooks or body; defense of occasional use by peers

  • Easily angers when confronted about substance abuse

  • Concern is expressed by others regarding substance abuse

Physical evidence of drug use:

  • Clothes smell of chemicals or marijuana, use of Visine or other eye drops

  • Drug paraphernalia such as roach clips, rolling papers, pipes, screens, baggies with dried leaves or seeds

  • Burning incense or using room deodorizers frequently

  • Prescription medication disappearing

  • Money or other valuables disappearing from family members

Changes in behavior and personality:

  • Abrupt changes in mood which may include hostility, defiance of rules, depression, and an “I don’t care” attitude

  • Lack of responsibility, blaming, lying, making excuses

  • Loss of memory, shortened attention span, disorganized thought patterns, fatigue

  • Withdrawal from family, isolation, secretiveness

Changes in school or job performance:

  • Lowered grades, neglected homework, frequent tardiness and absenteeism, falling asleep in class, discipline problems

  • Quitting or getting fired from a job


                                                            Strategies Should Substance Abuse/Addiction Be Suspected

  • Understand that addiction is a disease which is chronic and progressive, therefore, obtaining professional help from your pediatrician or a substance abuse specialist is recommended.  Assuming you can handle it on your own could be dangerous for your teen. To search for a provider in your area you can call 1-800-662-4357 or go to

  • Agree on a course of action before talking with your teen, talk with them when they are not high

  • Follow through on the course of action or consequences that you discuss, otherwise, the behavior will likely escalate

  • Express support despite your concerns and disappointment with the behavior, be specific about your observations

  • Don’t let denials such as “I’ve only tried it once,” “Everyone is doing it,” etc. impact on your resolve as a parent to address the concerns.  Denial is part of the addiction cycle.

  • Feelings of helplessness as well as a desire to cover up or deny the problem as a parent are not unusual at first either. Don’t ignore the signs of a potential problem.  Early intervention generally results in a better outcome.


Reviewed June 2017 by Patricia Doherty, Masters Degree in Counseling and Retired U.S. Probation Officer