How Can Peer Pressure Lead To Substance Abuse

Home » Blog » How Can Peer Pressure Lead To Substance Abuse
Home » Blog » How Can Peer Pressure Lead To Substance Abuse

Peer pressure is often written off as a part of teen life and moving into adolescence, but it remains a key role in substance use and addiction throughout one’s life. Humans are social creatures, and we long for social acceptance, especially from the ones we love or the ones we hold in high regard. 

If one is not steadfast in their beliefs, one can easily do things that are out of character as part of approval seeking in a social setting. When everyone else is doing something, it seems like a natural reaction to join in so as not to feel like the odd one out. 

This is where picking your social circle comes into play. While we all might have friends and family we wouldn’t change for the world, despite their faults, when it comes to friends, you have a lot more say in who you surround yourself with and the time you spend with them. 

We all tend to gravitate to people with shared interests. If you’re an active person, you might have friends that are gym or sports enthusiasts, while if you’re into the party scene, the odds are that many of your friends are smokers, big drinkers or drug users. 

Peer pressure comes in different forms, namely:

Environmental norms: 

A person may experience pressure to adhere to what is socially acceptable or deemed “normal” among their peer group. 

Direct pressure: 

Direct pressure comes from peers urging a person to act, either with the threat of violence, blackmail or imposing their biases on you. 

Indirect pressure: 

Indirect pressure happens when peers don’t indirectly influence a person’s behaviour through active pressure tactics but through passive means. Instead of trying to convince someone to partake in an activity, you let them assume that without joining in, they are not welcome in this social setting. 

Negative peer pressure and how it works 

Negative peer group pressure and addiction have a high correlation with one another. This type of peer pressure is the most common and destructive as it leads to someone engaging in unhealthy behaviours, including drug or alcohol use and even addictive behaviours like sexual acts. 

In a group that employs negative peer pressure, they will either use normalisation to encourage certain behaviours or can be more aggressive such as the risk of exclusion, blackmail, guilt and threats. Those that employ peer pressure tactics are actively seeking out your weak point and looking to manipulate you. Offering a particular destructive behaviour as the solution to the uncomfortable position they place you in. 

While peer pressure is often seen as the means to get people hooked on specific substances, it isn’t something that leaves you if you don’t have the proper tools to handle it. Peer pressure can also lead to addiction relapse as those who choose a life of sobriety are often ridiculed or excluded should they wish to remain clean or pursue recovery.

Peer pressure extends to other addictions too.

While peer pressure often centres around the use of chemical substances such as drugs and alcohol, these are not the only stimulants that form part of social settings. In fact, many behavioural addictions are seen as normal aspects of life, and many people go untreated for their addictions, as these acts are normalised by certain peer groups.  

Depending on your peer group and interests, one can be led down the path of abusing certain dopaminergic activities, which lead to:

  • Food addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Video game addiction

For example, if a young person enjoys online gaming, he or she may start to identify too much with games as part of their social setting, and because they find enjoyment in it, they curate friends that are the same. This can result in peer pressure and the creation of echo chambers that encourage each other to overconsume. 

Because the person socialises and partakes in their addiction together with other peers, it can quickly turn into an unhealthy obsession, where relationships and duties outside this sphere of influence begin to suffer along with this obsession leading to neglect of one’s self and later physical and mental health issues. 

How to deal with peer pressure

Identifying cases of peer pressure and how susceptible you may be to social pressures requires introspection and critical evaluation of your surroundings. Once you’ve identified those friends or family members who tend to use peer pressure to convince you to join specific social settings, you will need methods to deal with them. 

Dealing with peer pressure can be difficult and awkward and put relationships under strain, but putting your mental and physical health first should not be a negotiation. 

If you’re in situations involving peer pressure, consider applying the following methods. 

Take your time

Peer pressure often centres around instant gratification and uses time as a method of extracting an agreement from you and limiting your ability to weigh up the pros and cons of the offer. Instead of agreeing immediately to a request to do something, you are better off asking for some time to think about it, pause and take a few deep breaths.

By taking a step back, you can stop yourself from becoming overwhelmed by the occasion and can think more clearly. It’s easier to resist the pressure when you put some time and space between yourself and the situation.

Consider your reasons

When you’re faced with a choice, ask yourself what your reasons are for doing something. Is it because you genuinely enjoy it, or are the motivations more of a sense of external validation?

If the reason is not to upset certain people or to lose friendships or social status, you might want to reconsider the type of people you associate with and why you want their approval. 

You deserve to surround yourself with supportive people who respect your decisions—not people who pressure you into doing something that doesn’t feel right or could lead towards destructive habits. 

Set boundaries

Not all of us know where to draw the line and don’t want to be seen as the negative Nancy of the group. As friends and family, they should accept you for who you are and that we all have different interests and tolerance levels. 

Saying “no” can be hard, but it’s necessary to set healthy boundaries in any relationship. If someone pressures you to do something, you can try to explain your reasonings as to why, but you need not change your mind. 

No means no, and as someone who cares for you, they should respect your decision. If you’re faced with an instance of peer pressure, where someone offers you a drink and won’t take no for an answer, you could respond in the following manner:

“It upsets me when you offer me a drink knowing I don’t like to drink. I enjoy your company, but if this is going to continue to cause conflict between us, I won’t be able to spend time with you.”

Example response

Offer an alternative

Many situations of peer pressure revolve around social settings, and these friends may have good intentions, wanting everyone to enjoy themselves and spend time together, and use substances as a lubricant for these desires. 

If you find yourself in a situation like this, you could make it known that you will still spend time with them, but you won’t be using any substances. Alternatively, if you feel these situations are too uncomfortable for you, you can offer to spend time in a different setting, like going for a hike, a bike ride or enjoying some other activity instead. 

Peer pressure after recovery

Recovering from substance abuse and integrating back into society requires you to be far more cognisant of the effects of peer pressure and the tactics used by those who employ them. If you’ve completed your recovery and find yourself in a situation where most of your peers are substance users, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

  • Will these peers respect my decisions? 
  • Can you remain friends with these people and live a sober life? 

If the answer to this is no, you might be better off limiting your time with these people. However, if they are respectful of your decisions and your past experiences with substance abuse, it might be a different story. Once you’ve had the right professional help and support, you should be able to stay friends with those who use substances even when you are sober.

Although it never hurts to find more sober friends to add to your peer group.

Get in touch with us

If you have any additional questions on addiction, would like to speak to one of our team members, or want to hear more about the admissions process, feel free to make contact with us at any time. We look forward to helping you and your loved ones.