Peer Pressure and Substance Use

By Nikki Stuhr, B.S., LADC

Peer pressure is the idea that a peer can sway people into doing or participating in something they normally wouldn’t. Whether it’s drug use or exercise, peer pressure encourages people to alter their behaviors. Peer pressure can lead to bullying if the kids don’t follow through with what they are being pressured about.

The power of peer pressure doesn’t apply equally to all friend groups. When we think about peer pressure, we instantly think about a new group of friends, however, that may not be the case. Studies and surveys find close friends hold more sway over behavior compared to acquaintances, strangers or a new group of friends. More middle and high school students have reported trying alcohol and/or drugs at gatherings with close friends rather than large parties filled with strangers.

What do we do if we get into a sticky situation?

When feeling pushed to participate in something you don’t want, for example use drugs or alcohol, try these tips to avoid the activity or leave the situation altogether.

  • Make eye contact, and refuse to participate in a polite, but firm voice. This should be enough to cause a real friend to back off.
  • Suggest a different activity to steer the conversation away from the unwanted topic.
  • Say you can’t participate because of responsibilities you need to attend to later or the next day.
  • Leave the situation if their pressure continues.

If this group of friends continues to pressure you to engage in behavior you aren’t interested in, then they may not be the friends you want to spend time with. These types of social situations can be dangerous and lead to unwanted drinking or drug use. However, the comfort of a tight-knit friend group allows people to let down inhibitions and try things, which can be dangerous if drugs or drinking is popular in that group. If they are good friends, they will respect your decision to not engage.