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Is Nicotine a Gateway Drug? The Truth Revealed

Is Nicotine a Gateway Drug? The Truth Revealed

Smoking is one of the most common forms of recreational drug use in the world.

Despite the growing list of its negative health effects, many people still smoke regularly and struggle to quit. In 2018, nearly 14 out of every 100 adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes. That’s 34.2 million adults smoking in the U.S. alone.1 Aside from the many health risks, there are also concerns over the possibility of nicotine as a gateway drug.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is an extremely addictive chemical that is derived from tobacco plants. When it’s absorbed into the bloodstream, it immediately induces the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline then stimulates the central nervous system, increasing blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.2

Nicotine is found in tobacco products such as:
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars and pipes
  • Hookahs
  • Bidi cigarettes
  • Clove cigarettes

Is Nicotine a Gateway Drug?

A gateway drug is a “soft drug” or substance whose use can lead to the use of other more dangerous “hard drugs”. There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not nicotine is a gateway drug, but research suggests that products containing nicotine and tobacco are gateway drugs, and the use of cigarettes can lead to the use of other more harmful substances.

A survey from 2016 found that adults who smoked were more likely to need substance abuse treatment than adults who did not smoke. These substances included marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol.3 Another study from 2002 concluded that tobacco users were more likely than nonusers to try marijuana, and eventually, cocaine.4 Although this doesn’t prove that smoking is the cause of other substance abuse, it does suggest that nicotine and cigarettes are a gateway drug for these specific substances.


Like marijuana, cocaine is one of the drugs that can cause infertility. It has been found to interfere with sperm production and hormone production including testosterone production.3 It can also cause infertility in women by affecting their hormones, ovulation cycles, menstrual cycles, and their fallopian tubes.4 Typically, the longer someone abuses cocaine, the worse these problems will be, so going to a cocaine detox center at the first signs of addiction could help you avoid these problems.

Nicotine may also be a gateway drug because of how it impacts people mentally. Because of its mood-altering effects, nicotine can also mask the negative symptoms of mental health disorders.5 When nicotine is no longer an effective coping mechanism, nicotine users may turn to harder drugs for relief.

The exposure to different substances also goes hand in hand with who you know. Smokers may be more likely to be in contact with drug dealers or in social circles where drugs and other substances are commonly used. This contact increases exposure to other substances, as well as the probability of developing an addiction of their own and eventually needing a drug treatment program to stop.

To someone who is already smoking, trying a new substance may be an easy transition. Unfortunately, this experimentation can quickly lead to addiction, and it can be hard to stop on your own. At Banyan Boca, we are a medical detox center that helps people with various substance abuse problems regain control and quit these addictions before it is too late.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, call us at 888-280-4763 to get started on the road to recovery.


  1. CDC- Smoking & Tobacco Use
  2. NIH- Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products DrugFacts
  4. American Journal of Epidemiology- Into the World of Illegal Drug Use: Exposure Opportunity and Other Mechanisms Linking the Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, and Cocaine
  5. CDC- Adult Smoking
  6. NEJM- A Molecular Basis for Nicotine as a Gateway Drug
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.