Stages and Pathways of Drug Involvement: Examining the Gateway Hypothesis

By Denise B. Kandel | Go to book overview

14
Sensitization as a Process Underlying
the Progression of Drug Use via
Gateway Drugs
Susan Schenk

Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have demonstrated that use of illicit drugs, like cocaine, is reliably preceded by use of other drugs, like nicotine and alcohol (Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1984; Kandel & Davies, 1991; Kandel et al., 1992; Kandel & Yamaguchi, 1993; Merrill et al., 1999). The Gateway Hypothesis of drug abuse posits that the use of some drugs (Gateway drugs) increases the risk of subsequent drug abuse. If so, identification of factors that predispose to Gateway drug use may lead to early identification of those at risk for other drug use.

Several hypotheses have focused on either personality characteristics or environmental circumstances in the use of drugs and the progression of drug use (Jessor et al., 1980; Donovan et al., 1985; Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Wood et al., 1995; Costa et al., 1989; Donovan & Jesser, 1983; Swadi, 1999). For example, sensation seeking traits have been hypothesized to predict the initial foray into experimentation with psychoactive drugs (Wills et al., 1994). Because of the relative ease of procurement of nicotine and alcohol, these drugs would be most likely to be the ones used first. Initial use of other, more difficult to obtain and illicit drugs may follow as a result of a continuing search for new sensations and exposure to environmental circumstances that are more amenable to obtaining of these drugs. Thus, the Gateway progression may be viewed as a “progression of convenience” for those individuals who are predisposed to an elevated need to experience novel forms of stimulation; the prevailing

The hypotheses generated in this chapter were derived from results of animal experiments funded by research Grant DA 10084 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The methylphenidate data were collected with partial support from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

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