Why Alcohol is the REAL Gateway Drug

Dispelling the Myth That Marijuana is Worse.

Photo by Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. — John F. Kennedy

Ever since I could remember whenever I heard the term “gateway” drug, it always referred to marijuana. I was warned as a kid that if you start smoking marijuana, that would be the beginning of the end of your life.

It would start with just light recreational marijuana use at home and end with you smoking crack in a gas station bathroom with someone named Billy who you just met about twenty minutes ago.

I took all of this to heart when I was younger and because I didn’t want to end up smoking crack at the Sunoco next to the Walmart near where I lived, I resigned that marijuana would just not be something in which I would partake.

Therefore, whenever it was offered to me when I was younger, I happily turned it down and let the person offering it know that it wasn’t something that I did.

Instead, they could pass me another Milwaukee’s Best or Icehouse (the absolute CHEAPEST beer we could buy in college…a 24 pack for 8.99???) when they had a second.

What this translated into was 19 years of me turning down marijuana consistently, while weekly and, in some weeks, daily ingesting alcohol in my body because I had never been warned about alcohol having quite the same effect to ruin your life.

Well, let me rephrase that.

Sure, I had been warned about alcohol as it relates to being leery of becoming an alcoholic or driving under the influence at risk of getting a DUI. I saw that on television and in the movies. But other than that, there wasn’t much harm that could come of it, was there?

Today, I look at things much differently. While I still feel marijuana is not something that I desire to put inside my body, the way I look at it now compared to alcohol has entirely changed.

While I would agree that “the ganja” is not something that anyone should do on a consistent basis, it is now my belief that alcohol is a much more dangerous substance to American society than marijuana by any stretch of the imagination, and is, in fact, the true gateway drug that leads individuals down a path of destruction and failure that many people fail to recognize.

There are a number of reasons to support this.


The very first time you drink, it is very likely you will get a “buzz” at maybe one or two beers in. Your body will not have any experience with this foreign chemical, so it won’t know how to respond accordingly to ward off the negative effects of it.

You will realize that the feeling is kinda good and then begin to revel in the joy of what most people love about drinking — that care-free feeling of just enjoying the moment. Being free to allow the night to take you where it may and just feeling overall great about life with little to no cares is a great feeling.

As you continue to drink, and the natural coping mechanism of your body kicks in, the dynorphin/endorphin cycle of your opioid creation slowly, over time, makes it more difficult for you to reach that feeling of euphoria experienced without consuming more and more alcohol each time.

If interested in reading more about the science behind this, we talk all about it in our article on AINYF, The Science of WHY You Should Quit Drinking.

This could lead to you eventually getting to a point in which you don’t feel that even alcohol is able to give you that feeling anymore, as your tolerance will continue to increase each time you push past your previous drinking level.

As your tolerance increases due to the improvement of your body to break down alcohol with liver enzymes, you will need more and more to get that same feeling, which could, in turn, lead you to decide it is time to try other drugs to get the same feeling again.

When alcohol gets to the point that it doesn’t quite “do the trick,” there is a good chance you’ll begin looking at other things to do so.


Marijuana, while known to make people extremely lazy, is not known to cause people to do risky things that they wouldn’t normally do. Sure, they may get a little paranoid and start asking questions about the meaning of the universe, but they don’t typically want to go lay down in the middle of the street and see if cars will miss them.

Instead, often the image of someone considered “baked” is one of them sitting on the couch not wanting to really do anything.

Contrast that with the image of someone being drunk and you have the complete opposite, as it invokes images of people dancing on tables and running around parking lots naked.

The reason for this is alcohol’s effect on your prefrontal cortex and decision makingmaking it much more likely for you to do something that you wouldn’t usually do.

Couple this with the gradual decrease of alcohol’s ability to create the same endorphin rush over time, and you’ve created the perfect storm for someone to offer you something a bit “stronger” to sound very enticing.

This is why you often see the scene in movies of someone hanging out with friends and everyone is drinking. There is that one person who doesn’t drink, but since it’s legal and everyone else is doing it, they think why not.

When they begin drinking, they are so new to alcohol, that the smallest amount creates that feeling of excitement and awe in them. Fast forward a little later in the night and this person who was apprehensive about drinking before is now emboldened by alcohol’s effect on decreasing their inhibitions.

This will cause them to think that trying another drug that is offered to them sounds like a GREAT idea. They had no idea that alcohol would feel this good, so why wouldn’t they try something that would make them feel even better.

When you drink, your brain doesn’t have the ability to see the long term consequences of your decision making. This is why so many people end up getting into fights because of increased aggression when they are drinking when they wouldn’t normally fight in any other circumstance.

Change this situation to one in which they are offered a drug that is a bit more addictive than alcohol (say heroin or cocaine) and you could have a decision that creates a much more dependent situation than they originally considered.


For me, this is generally the biggest reason that I think alcohol should be considered much more of a gateway drug than alcohol. It has to do with a simple test that I like to call the alcohol-marijuana prerequisite theory.

What this theory hypothesizes is that if you compare the number of people who do what most would consider as “hard” or highly addictive drugs (i.e., heroin, cocaine, crack) who also either drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, you will find that almost all (if not all) drink alcohol, while maybe only a portion of them also smoke marijuana.

The percentage of people who say they have smoked marijuana in the last month in the U.S. is right around 12%, while the percentage of people who have done the same with alcohol is 55.3%.

Does this mean that there is a direct correlation between drinking and hard drugs?

Of course not.

But what it does show is that there is a much higher likelihood that someone who drinks alcohol will have graduated to try an illicit drug at some point in their life, as opposed to someone who has only smoked pot.

And while I understand the fact that the percentages don’t mean that it has to be one or the other, the common sense test would be how many people do you think there are who do some form of hard drugs, i.e. cocaine, heroin, prescription pills, and ALSO drink as opposed to how many do you think there are who do these same things, smoke marijuana but NOT drink alcohol.

It just seems very unlikely.

As shared earlier, the effects of alcohol are gradual over time and will lead to addiction if not policed accordingly, with about 5.8% of Americans (about 15 million people) being diagnosed with alcohol use disorder every year.

Contrast this to marijuana, in which only about 1.5% (about 4 million people) are considered to experience any type of dependence that would be considered addictive, and you have a 400% greater chance that someone would experience alcohol addiction and then move on to more illicit drugs than that being the case from marijuana.

Also, I think a simple test of your own life experience could also help to give credence to this argument. How many of us know people who smoke marijuana who also drinks, as opposed to someone who smokes marijuana who NEVER drinks?

Occam’s razor would lead us to surmise if one exists mostly in conjunction with the other (marijuana use is often coupled with alcohol) but the other rarely exists without the other (marijuana use WITHOUT alcohol use), then it is much more likely that the former (alcohol) leads to the latter (marijuana), as opposed to the other way around.


For as long as I can remember, parents have feared that marijuana will lead their kid down a path of drug use, while completely ignoring the reality that alcohol has a great chance of creating this effect.

And while no one is saying that marijuana is harmless, it is clear that alcohol is not getting its fair shake as the creator of pathways that could turn anyone’s innocent drinking into a life of which they never imagined.