Drugs, Drinking and Peer Pressure

Teens place high value on others’ opinions of them, so much so they may be pressured into doing something they know they shouldn’t, like trying drugs or drinking underage. There are strategies you can teach your teen, however, to help them resist.

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6 min read

What is Peer Pressure?

teens pressuring young man into using drugsPeer pressure is defined as influence from members of one’s peer group. Peers are people who are part of the same group you are, whether that’s age, race, gender, education or even geography. Although peer pressure can occur at all ages, it’s a very common occurrence with adolescents and teenagers who seek the approval of their classmates, siblings, friends and partners.

Peer pressure often triggers an emotional reaction in people, which in turn makes them more likely to succumb to the pressure and can be a factor in teen drinking or drug abuse. Your teen may be more likely to fall victim to peer pressure if they feel:

  • Sad
  • Guilty
  • Disappointed in themselves
  • Anxious
  • Excluded
  • Uncool

Most people think of peer pressure as a negative thing — influencing a teen to engage in risky behavior — but peer pressure can also be positive and influence healthy behavior. Just as your teen may be pressured negatively into trying drugs and drinking, their friends may also be a positive influence and pressure them to resist these risky behaviors. There are several different types of peer pressure, including positive, negative, verbal and nonverbal.

Peer pressure can happen in person or digitally — a major reason why social media influences teens, too.

Negative vs. Positive Peer Pressure

Negative peer pressure encourages risky behavior and is often what drives teenagers to use drugs or alcohol in the first place. In fact, research from 2003 proves the “most reliable predictor” of a child’s drinking behavior was the drinking behavior of their friends.

In one example of negative peer pressure, a classmate of your son’s may want him to buy study aid drugs off of him. He might say, “I noticed you got a C on your last exam. This pill can help you, you know. You’ll never get into college without it, your grades aren’t good enough.”

On the other hand, positive peer pressure may involve your daughter’s best friend pushing her to be a workout partner. “I really want to make the track team,” she might say. “Will you help me train by working out with me? We both could use the exercise, and you can catch up on your TV shows after we’re done.”

Spoken vs. Silent Peer Pressure

Spoken peer pressure is verbal — someone telling your child to do or not do something. Silent peer pressure, however, is nonverbal.

For example, a boy in your son’s school may want him to shave his head for a cancer fundraiser. If there’s spoken peer pressure, he might say: “Come on, man, everyone else is doing it! It’s just hair, it’ll grow back. We can’t meet our fundraising goal unless you help out. Don’t be such a baby about it!” Nonverbal pressure wouldn’t involve any talking — instead, your son may see all the other guys at school shave their heads and feel like he will be left out or uncool if he’s the only kid who doesn’t join in.

In another example, your daughter’s friends may want her to join in on drinking at a party. Spoken peer pressure may sound something like, “Try some! You’ll like it, I promise. Girls who drink beer are hot, I know it will impress that guy you have a crush on.” Or, without speaking, your daughter’s friends may pressure her into drinking by passing a bottle of vodka around the group, each kid taking a swig along the way, all eyes landing on her when it becomes her turn.

How Peer Pressure Looks

girl judged by peersExecution of peer pressure often involves a common set of behaviors:

  • Rejection – Threatening to exclude your teen from an activity or group
  • Put Downs – Making fun of your teen
  • Reasoning – Using logic or explanations to try and convince your teen to conform
  • Exclusivity – Whispering behind your teen’s back, shooting them dirty looks or huddling up without them

How to Handle Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a reality of adolescence. The subject of peer pressure can vary, running the gamut of items important to teens and their social circles. These subject can include:

  • Using/resisting drugs or alcohol
  • How to do your hair
  • What clothes to wear
  • Studying longer/less
  • What to eat
  • Engaging in sexual activity
  • Picking a college to attend
  • Selecting a college major

This doesn’t mean your teen has to give in when they’re pushed to do something they don’t want to. As a parent, there are several strategies you can teach your child to resist situations of peer pressure in school.

Stand Up

The simplest thing to do when faced with peer pressure is to stand up for yourself. Teen self-esteem can sometimes get in the way of that, though, so it’s important you teach your child a few strategies to build confidence and stand up for themselves.

  • Learn to Say No – All it takes is one word to turn down a bully or resist peer pressure. Helping your child practice this in simple situations at home will give them the confidence to say no on their own when faced with peer pressure.
  • Practice Assertiveness – How you say something is just as important as what you say. If your teen is assertive when they say no, others will listen. Make sure your teen stands up tall, looks their peer in the eyes and distinctly delivers their answer when they refuse peer pressure. Use “I” statements like “I feel,” “I think” or “I want.”
  • Know Yourself – It is much easier to stand up for what you believe in when you know what you believe in. Help your teen establish what’s important to them (e.g. doing well in school, being kind to others, abstinence, etc.) so if they are ever faced with peer pressure they will know what to say.
  • Help a Friend – Standing up to your peers can be scary, so if your teen sees a friend or classmate being bullied or pressured into doing something, encourage them to stick up for that person. Using “we” statements like “We have to go study” or “We don’t want to drink” makes this easier.

Prevent It

In some senses, peer pressure is unavoidable. But there are some things your teen can do to prevent themselves from ever getting in a sticky situation with friends or classmates.

  • Make Good Friends – By hanging out with other kids who have the same values and interests, your child is less likely to ever be put in a position to do something they don’t want to. This support structure can also help stand up for them if your child loses their confidence.
  • Don’t Judge – Teach your kids to accept and respect another person’s decisions. This builds a mutual respect between the two people and makes it less likely that person will try to force your child’s decision-making in the future.

Does Your Child Need Help?

If one of your child’s peers takes this pressure too far and your teen feels threatened, unsafe, is getting physically hurt or is being pushed to do something they really don’t want to do, they should ask for help. Some people they can trust to talk to include:

  • Teachers
  • Counselors
  • Parents
  • Coaches
  • A trusted family member
  • Police or a school resource officer

If your child has a problem with drugs or alcohol, teen drug rehab may help. Speak to one of TheRecoveryVillage.com’s recovery advisors to talk about drug abuse, choosing the right rehab facility for your family or paying for drug rehab. Make sure to take the time to talk to your teen about what they can expect during rehab before they begin their journey to recovery.

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Peer Pressure Among Teens
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