Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Patterns of Drug Escalation among Philadelphia Arrestees: An Assessment of the Gateway Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Patterns of Drug Escalation among Philadelphia Arrestees: An Assessment of the Gateway Theory

Article excerpt

Ephemeral stages in the use of licit and illicit substances have been documented for several decades. Sophisticated analyses have repeatedly demonstrated that "gateway" substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, emphasize early roles in a drug-using pathway. Adolescents are unlikely to use marijuana without first using alcohol and tobacco, and will not use more serious drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, without first using marijuana. To date, however, most research has focused on non-deviant populations. In the current analysis, non-recursive path models are estimated on a population of 1,252 adult Philadelphia arrestees surveyed through the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program. Analyses confirm patterns of drug escalation among arrestees with "soft," "alternative,"and "hard" central nervous system (CNS) modifying drugs. Generalizability and intervention strategies are discussed.


More than three decades ago, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1965) publicized that marijuana was a dangerous stepping-stone to serious drug addiction. Within the last two decades, support for, and variations of, this "gateway" theory have been well represented in scholarly literature (Golub and Johnson 1994; Esbensen and Elliott 1994; Welte and Barnes 1985; Kandel and Logan 1984; O'Malley et al. 1984; Yamaguchi and Kandel 1984; Donovan and Jessor 1983; Kandel 1975). Scientists have generally confirmed that adolescents are unlikely to use "hard" drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, unless they have first used marijuana, and that they are unlikely to use marijuana without first using alcohol and/or tobacco.

Kandel's (1975) random survey of high school students in New York State indicated four stages in the sequence of involvement with drugs: beer or wine, cigarettes or hard liquor, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. She (1975:912) found that, "... drug use does not begin de novo with marijuana, but with legal drugs: beer or wine at first, and cigarettes or hard liquor subsequently." Some of the adolescents who smoked and drank escalated to marijuana use, while some of the marijuana users then progressed to one or more illicit drugs. Kandel (1975:914) also asserted that, "... a particular drug does not invariably lead to other drugs higher up in the sequence," and that, "many youths stop at a particular stage and do not progress further." It is important to note however, that Kandel's data do reveal that few drug users proceed to a drug at a particular stage without first trying the preceding one. Though Kandel 's(1975) findings support the "gateway" theory, the data may be insufficient indicators because high school students may not have had the opportunity to escalate to more serious drugs of abuse.

Donovan and Jessor (1983) focused on establishing the location of problem drinking along a dimension of adolescent involvement with both licit and illicit drugs. Their analysis yielded six levels of drug involvement: nonuse of alcohol or illicit drugs; nonproblem use of alcohol; marijuana use; problem drinking; use of pills (amphetamines, barbiturates, hallucinogenic drugs); and the use of"hard" drugs, such as cocaine and heroin (Donovan and Jessor 1983). They determined that alcohol addiction was an intermediate step between marijuana use and the use of amphetamines and/or barbiturates, which in turn escalated into "hard" drug use.

O' Mal ley et al. (1984) utilized a cohort-sequential design to investigate period, age, and cohort effects on substance use about adolescents between the ages of 18 and 24. They described late adolescent and early adulthood effects for both licit and illicit drugs. Increases were reported for the year after high school for daily use of cigarettes, but not for monthly use (O'Malley et al.1984). However, both monthly and daily alcohol use increased with age. Furthermore, annual use of cocaine increased between the ages of 18 and 21, whereas the annual use of narcotics other than heroin illustrated a decreasing linear trend as a function of age (O'Malley et al. …

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