Peer Pressure and Drug Abuse: How Strong is the Link?

Last Updated on November 25, 2021

child being pressured by friends

Peer pressure from children’s friends in school can have a high impact on decisions they make. Friends play a significant role in how your child makes decisions. When your child hangs out with kids who do certain things, the tendency for your child to join in greatly increases. A study done by Columbia University found that a child is six times more likely to have an alcoholic drink if they have friends who drink.1

In many cases, children and teens feel an intense pressure to fit in. They will behave and make decisions based on what they think their peers want them to do. If your child thinks that taking drugs or drinking alcohol will raise the respect their peers have for them, there’s a good chance she or he will try it at least once.

How do peers influence drug use?

Peers can influence their friends in supportive or destructive ways when it comes to drug use. In various circumstances, social pressure can be applied that may prevent people from using certain types of drugs, persuade them to not use any drugs at all, or encourage them to misuse all kinds of drugs.

Research studies show that teens have a relatively strong influence on one another’s’ behaviors and they are more likely to take risks in groups rather than alone.2 Peer influence is also one of the top reasons given by teens for why someone their age would start smoking, followed by being offered a cigarette from a friend and wanting acceptance from friends.3

What are some examples of peer pressure?

Examples of Positive Peer Pressure:

  1. Your friends all work hard to exercise and eat healthy so you are motivated to prioritize your health too.
  2. Your friends all abstain from drugs and alcohol because they want to enjoy life sober. You avoid addictive substances because you admire them.
  3. Your best friend makes to-do lists to stay productive and achieves some major goals. You set your own goals and start using lists because you saw how successful she was.

Examples of Negative Peer Pressure:

  1. Your friends all skip class and you don’t want to be the only one to show so you skip too.
  2. Your friends abuse prescription drugs. You steal some out of your parents’ medicine cabinet at home so you can fit in.
  3. Your coworkers think it’s dorky to pack a lunch so you avoid bringing yours and spend lots of money eating out every day for lunch at work.

Risky behaviors

A study done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that teens are more likely to act out risky behaviors if they know their friends are watching.4 The behaviors included speeding and running traffic lights. During the study, teens weren’t encouraged by friends to perform risky behaviors but did so anyway in many cases.

The way participants calculated risk versus reward was shown to be the underlying cause of these decisions. Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that the friends’ presence heightened activity in certain areas of the brain that are responsible for predicting and determining the value of reward. The resulting social effect of this process was that the teens made risky decisions. Simply knowing that their friends were watching stimulated these regions linked with reward, so they went ahead and took risks.

Drugs and alcohol: Risky behavior

These same mechanisms come into play when a young person decides whether to take a drink or a drug. When with friends, just the mere fact that someone is watching may tip the scales into agreeing that using substances is a good idea. Unfortunately, depending on what is being taken and how much, dangerous and harmful consequences can result.

Examples of risky behaviors involving drugs and alcohol include:

  • Choosing to ride with a driver who is intoxicated or impaired by drugs and alcohol
  • Operating machinery or using dangerous tools while intoxicated
  • Engaging in dangerous or unplanned sexual behaviors
  • Committing a crime while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Getting into heated arguments or physical fights with friends or strangers

All of these behaviors can easily lead to some severe consequences such as unplanned pregnancies, physical injury, assault and rape, DUI/DWI arrests, psychological problems, or death.

Talk to a Treatment Expert - (512) 605-2955

Risky behavior becomes a substance abuse problem

Since drug and alcohol users like to spend time with people who share their habits, they may encourage your child to join in so they have more people to socialize with. The peer pressure that occurs in these settings, and the risky chances kids take to experiment with substances, can be the precursors to a serious and long-term addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) cites several other risk factors that may influence the development of a substance abuse problem. They include:5

  • Early aggressive behavior
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Substance use
  • Drug availability
  • Poverty

Not all people who identify with one or more of these risk factors are destined to develop a drug or alcohol addiction, but they are at increased risk. If these factors are not addressed, a person’s risk of developing a substance abuse problem will only increase further as they begin to experience negative consequences, such as social problems, issues at school, or the development of inappropriate coping mechanisms.

How do you say no when offered drugs?

  • “No, thanks. I’m good.”
  • “No, I’m really trying to stay sober so please don’t ask me again.”
  • “No, I’m sorry but I don’t drink or use drugs. It’s not my thing.”
  • “No. I lost someone to that stuff so I’m not interested.”
  • “No, I’m saving all my money for a new car.”
  • “Nah, I need all the brains I’ve got.”
  • “No thanks. I have to work and I can’t do that after a night of drinking or drugs.”
  • “No thanks, I already have a drink.”

Positive peer pressure in recovery

The nature of peer pressure can be used for good in recovery. Programs for teens and young adults use the power of peer pressure in a positive way. When a person knows their friends are watching—sober friends in recovery—it encourages sobriety.

When young people see that their peers are leading healthier and more joyful lives, it helps increase their motivation to do the same. A recovery program that provides social functions a teen once received from fellow drug users makes the road to sobriety and healthy living easier. While peer pressure can be an issue that leads to drug abuse, it can also be used to recover from it.

At Nova Recovery Center, our treatment program is highly focused on peer support and social inclusion. We believe in the importance of developing healthy, strong relationships in recovery, as this is an essential part of building a firm foundation in sobriety.

Clients at Nova live, learn, and work alongside other like-minded people as they gradually transition out of a life of addiction and into a life of recovery. Here are a few specific ways we encourage social interaction and relationship-building during drug rehab:

  • Clients attend 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions with their peers in recovery
  • Clients enrolled in the residential program at our Austin recovery center live on-site with their peers and share mealtimes together
  • Clients work one-on-one with Recovery Specialists who are in recovery themselves and have more experience being sober
  • Clients attend group outings with other residents on a regular basis
  • Clients are encouraged to keep one another accountable in group sessions and on an individual basis
  • After rehab, sober living in Austin and elsewhere provides ongoing accountability, structure, and support in recovery

These social aspects of drug and alcohol rehab at Nova provide ample opportunities for clients to build relationships, encourage one another in their quests for sobriety, and share personal issues related to their substance abuse.

Learn more about drug rehab at Nova Recovery Center

It’s possible to learn how to live a life of recovery in Austin, Texas. To learn more about the impact of positive peer interaction in rehab, call Nova today. One of our admissions specialists will be happy to answer any questions you have and provide more information about our gender-specific drug and alcohol rehab programs.


Call Now Button