Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MYERS, A. J. & Petty, M. O. (2004). Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The purpose of this study was to find if there is a connection between alcohol use and marijuana use. Experimenters hypothesized that the more alcohol a person has consumed the more likely they will want to smoke marijuana. There were three groups with 15 to 18 people in each group. Groups consisted of control, moderate alcohol, and high alcohol groups. Subjects were told a cover story and given alcohol according to their body weight and the group they were assigned to. Confederates offered fake marijuana to the groups and counted those willing to smoke. Subjects were debriefed and asked to complete a survey about their past and present drug use. Results were statistically significant. Researchers found the more alcohol comsumed the more likely the subjects were willing to try marijuana. All of the subjects reporting marijuana use also reported alcohol use.

Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug? Illegal drug use is a major issue in the United States. Everyday we are bombarded with anti-drug commercials, with marijuana use being the main target. It is taught from an early age that drug usage is negative and carries disastrous consequences. The problem with this, however, is that alcohol use is more common and even encouraged through advertising mediums such as commercials and billboards. Rather than teaching youths lifelong abstinence, they are in effect being encouraged to indulge when they are of legal age. The age is even lower for tobacco use, as adults as young as 18 in most states are of legal age to purchase tobacco. According to the 2002 Time Almanac currently 51.7% of people use alcohol and only 5% of people are current marijuana users. Of the 51.7% of people that use alcohol 7.4% are heavy users. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says the cost of alcohol and drug abuse was $246 billion in 1992, and that 60% or $148 billion of that was generated from alcoholism and alcohol abuse (Trevino & Richard, 2002). More money is spent on alcohol abusers than on drug abusers every year. This implies that alcohol abuse is a bigger problem then marijuana use. Alcohol and tobacco are common drugs that can be found anywhere and used by anyone. The availability of these drugs makes it easier for kids to get and abuse at a young age. Studies have found that alcohol and tobacco abuse may lead to other illegal drug use. Australian teenagers aged 13 to 17 years were surveyed in a study done by Debra Blaze-Temple and Sing Kai Lo in 1992. They found that drug use increased with age. They also found that alcohol and tobacco were important “gateway” drugs and led to increased use of other illegal drugs. Blaze-Temple and Kai Lo also state “Marijuana use was not a necessary stage for the progression to other illicit dug use as 29% of current users of other illicit drugs reported never using marijuana”. A study done by Shillington and Clapp in 2002 found that substance abuse and behavioral problems were higher among persons using both alcohol and marijuana then among those who used only alcohol or marijuana. Youth with alcohol problems also tend to be binge drinkers. Binge drinkers are “significantly more likely to report ‘ever’ using and current use of cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs” (Jones, Oeltmann, Wilson, Brener, & Hill, 2001). The more often binge drinking occurs the more likely people are to report use of cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. Alcohol has been linked to criminal behavior. Research with convicted prisoners has suggested that many of them performed a lot of their crimes under the influence of alcohol (Day, Howells, Heseltine, & Casey, 2003). Day reported that 38% of the Canadian federal prison inmates committed their most serious crime while under the influence of alcohol. Common knowledge suggests that marijuana is one of the worst drugs available. And experimentation with other illegal drugs stems from the initial use of marijuana. This is just not true. Use of illegal drugs also takes place after experimenting with two of the most common legal drugs available; alcohol and tobacco. After speaking with many individuals it has become clear that the majority of people do not realize that alcohol and tobacco are two of the biggest gateway drugs. The fact that these drugs are so readily available should be of concern to most people and needs to be brought to light. This study will be focusing mainly on alcohol as a gateway drug. The purpose of this study is to find if there is a connection between alcohol use and other illegal drug use.


There were 49 subjects participating in this study. Group one consisted of 15 participants. The first group was not given alcohol before they were offered fake marijuana; this was the control group. Group two consisted of 16 participants. Group two was given “shots” of alcohol so that their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was at the legal level for the state of Missouri (.08). Group three consisted of 18 participants. The third group was given alcohol so that their BAC was above the legal limit for driving in Missouri.

Materials include two surveys, a consent form, alcohol, and fake marijuana. The first survey (see Appendix A) asking height, weight, and gender was given along with a consent form explaining their rights before the experiment began. The second survey (see Appendix B) was given after the experiment and asked questions about participants past and present drug use. Alcohol was given in the form of “shots”. This form was used to ensure that everyone had the same amount of alcohol over the same amount of time. The marijuana used is a safe herbal supplement that looks and smells like real marijuana.

There are three groups of 15 to 18 people each being used in this study. Each group was invited over to different private residences to insure privacy. The studies were conducted over three consecutive days. Subjects were told a cover story when they arrived. They were told that they are participating in a study on alcohol to observe their behavior while intoxicated. Participants were given a consent form to read and sign. They were informed of their right to leave at any point during the experiment if they wished. They were then given a questionnaire asking gender, height, and weight so that the amount of alcohol they received would be accurate for their body type. They were then given shots of alcohol according to their body weight and the group they were assigned to. Participants were told to act as they would in a party situation. After the alcohol had time to take effect two confederates began smoking “marijuana” and offered some to the rest of the group. The researchers left the room at this point. The confederates counted how many of the group choose to smoke. The confederates were instructed not to use peer pressure to get people to smoke. Subjects were debriefed and asked to fill out a survey about their past and present drug use before leaving. Designated drivers were available for anybody receiving alcohol to insure safety.

We compared the control group to the moderate and high alcohol use groups. We predicted that the more alcohol a person has consumed that the more likely they will be to want to smoke marijuana. Also, people who reported to using alcohol often will also report to using marijuana. A chi-square test of independence was calculated comparing the frequency of marijuana use for participants. A significant interaction was found (x² (2) = 13.34, p< .05). People who drank more alcohol were more likely to want to try marijuana than people who had not been drinking. 67% of the high alcohol group, 31% of the moderate alcohol group, and 6.7% of the no alcohol group tried the marijuana (see Figure 1). For the majority of experienced marijuana users the first drug they ever tried was alcohol. Alcohol was the first drug used by 61.3% of marijuana users. Tobacco was the first drug used by 19.4% of marijuana users. Marijuana was the first drug used by 19.4% of marijuana users (see Figure 2).

The results of our study were statistically significant. We found that for our study the more alcohol someone drinks the more likely they will be to want to smoke marijuana. We also found that 100% of the people who reported marijuana use were also drinkers. The first drug used by the majority of people who smoke marijuana was alcohol (67%). Anyone aged 21 or older willing to participate in this study were included. This experiment required some subjects to drink alcohol to the point of intoxication. Because of the nature of this study some potential subjects choose not to participate. We wondered if we would have gotten the same results had we used a more diverse sample. There were very few females and no minorities participating. The majority of our participants were white, male, college students. Marijuana is called the gateway drug. It is considered the worst drug available because is supposedly causes its users to move on to harder drugs. What people don’t realize is that marijuana use comes after someone is already using alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol is easily available to all people. Unfortunately most people fail to realize that alcohol is a drug. A common misconception is that something is not a drug unless it is illegal. This mentality can potentially cause more damage than do illegal drugs. Awareness of the role of alcohol as a stepping stone needs to be brought to light through alcohol education. After reviewing the literature we have come to the conclusion that our findings are consistent with other studies on this topic. Blaze-Temple and Kai Lo found that alcohol and tobacco are important gateway drugs. Jones and Oeltmann found that binge drinkers and people who drink heavily are more likely to use cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. These studies are consistent with our findings that the more a person drinks in one night the more likely they are to want to use marijuana. This study has many options for future research. We suggest that this study be replicated to control for different variables. There were no minorities participating in this study. We recommend that replication be done to control for race. There were also very few female participants. We suggest that a replication study be done to control for gender. Many of the participants in our experiment seemed to have had experience with either alcohol or marijuana. Replicate using people who have never used alcohol or marijuana, if possible. Here in the United States marijuana is illegal. Replicate using a location where marijuana is legal to see if the findings hold true in a different society.

Blaze-Temple, D.; Kai Lo, S. (1992). Stages of drug use: a community survey of Perth teenagers. British Journal of Addiction, 87, 215-225.Day, A.; Howells, K.; Heseltine, K.; & Casey, S. (2003). Alcohol use and negative affect in the offence cycle. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 13, 45-58.Jones, S.; Oeltmann, J.; Wilson, T.; Brener, N.; Hill, C. (2001). Binge drinking among undergraduate college students in the United States: Implications for other substance use. Journal of American College Health, 50, 33-38.Shillington, A. & Clapp, J. (2002). Beer and bongs: Differential problems experienced by older adolescents using alcohol only compared to combined alcohol and marijuana use. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 28, 379-397.Time Almanac (2002). Boston, MA: Time.

How much do you weigh? __________lbs.How tall are you? ______Male/ Female

Please answer truthfully to all questions. All answers will be kept confidential and anonymous. Circle the answer that best describes you.

1) Have you ever consumed alcohol? Yes/ No2) How often do you drink? Never/ 2 or less a week/ 5 or less a week/ 10 or less a week/ more than 10 drinks a week3) Do you smoke cigarettes? Yes/ No4) How many cigarettes do you go through a day? ___________5) While drinking do you feel the urge to smoke cigarettes? Yes/ No6) Have you ever smoked marijuana? Yes/ No7) How often do you smoke marijuana? Never/ within the last week/ within the last month/ within the last 3 months/ within the last 6 months/ within the last 9 months/ within the last 12 months8) While drinking do you feel the urge to smoke marijuana? Yes/ No9) While smoking marijuana do you feel the urge to drink alcohol? Yes/ No10) Have you ever felt pressure to smoke marijuana while drinking alcohol. Yes/ No11) Have you tried any of these drugs? Alcohol/ Marijuana/ Tobacco/ Meth/ LSD/ Mushrooms/ Crack/ Cocaine12) If so which of the drugs listed above did you try first ______, second ______, third ________13) Have you ever done anything you regret later while drinking alcohol? Yes/ No14) Have you ever done anything while under the influence of alcohol that you wouldn’t normally do? Yes/ No15) When I drink I feel less in control of the things that are going on around me. Yes/ No16) Have you ever done anything you regret later while smoking marijuana? Yes/ No17) Have you ever done anything under the influence of marijuana that you wouldn’t normally do? Yes/ No

Figure 1

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Submitted 5/3/2004 6:39:36 PM
Last Edited 5/4/2004 2:22:06 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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