Peer pressure, defined as the way people of the same social group influence one another, can indeed have an impact on substance abuse. Teenagers tend to be particularly vulnerable.
How does Peer Pressure Lead to Drug Abuse?
Young people (and sometimes adults) want to fit in or stand out; sometimes both at the same time. This causes them to do things they might not otherwise do.
Sometimes, this is harmless or even positive. Peer pressure can encourage kids to choose a popular brand of sneaker or get involved in a fun sport or hobby. However, peer pressure can also encourage experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Specifically, teenagers tend to think that those around them will be impressed if they “just try it.”
This can lead to substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and other addictions such as exercise or gambling. Peer pressure can also affect addicts in recovery; the temptation is high to go back to hanging out with the same people who encouraged you to take drugs in the first place.
What Can You Do to Resist Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure can be hard to resist. It’s a normal thing and not always a negative, but when peer pressure is pushing you towards negative or dangerous behaviors, it’s important to learn how to deal with it. Here are some things which can help:
- Avoid people you know will try to pressure you into taking drugs. This can be particularly hard for a recovering addict who misses their friends, but it’s very important. Instead, seek out people who will pressure you into doing good things for yourself. Find an exercise buddy, join a hobby that draws you into a group.
- Accept that you aren’t going to be liked by everyone. Nobody can be “everyone’s friend.” Some people are going to dislike you. Some people are going to dislike you over nothing you did and nothing you do is going to change it. Personality clashes are a very real thing.
- Set boundaries and practice saying no. Saying no over small stuff can help establish that you aren’t going to be easy to pressure into large stuff. If no feels uncomfortable, try deflecting with “Not today” or use some kind of excuse. If, for example, somebody offers you a drink, try saying that you have to get up in the morning, have to drive, or have already had enough (even if you haven’t).
- Take a supportive friend and have them intervene to remind you that you intend to stay sober. This is a good tactic if, for example, you have to go to a work party where there’s an open bar.
- Find a mentor. Even adults benefit from having somebody around in that role, and for teenagers it can be particularly important.
- Support others you see being pressured. Hopefully they will do the same for you. It’s much harder to put pressure on a group.
- Set boundaries and find ways to leave situations which make you uncomfortable. It’s perfectly fine to use family as an excuse, pretend you got a text and have to go, etc.
- Check in with yourself and trust your gut. Peer pressure often causes us to ignore what we feel is right in ourselves, and the latter is more likely to be the best choice of action.
- Cut toxic people out of your life. If people are trying to harass, coerce, or threaten you into anything, those people are not your friends. If asking them to stop doesn’t work, stop hanging out with them. (This does include family members, who can be an unfortunate part of the problem at times).
Everyone experiences peer pressure. The best way to deal with it is to set your boundaries, learn to realize when you are under pressure, and seek out situations where you can use it in your favor.