The Connection Between Peer Pressure and Substance Abuse

girl experiencing peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol

The Connection Between Peer Pressure and Substance Abuse

Peer pressure and substance abuse are closely related because one of the most common motives for first-time substance abusers is peer pressure. The desire to fit in and be accepted by one’s peers contributes to the ever-growing amount of individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

While positive peer pressure is healthy, negative peer pressure can influence a young person to engage in risky behaviors, underage drinking, and more. Belonging to a social group of negative influences that supports or promotes the use of substances greatly contributes to the act of an individual beginning a cycle of addiction. However, it has also been proven that belonging to a social group that supports recovery or abstinence from substance abuse can help an individual escape this type of behavior. These positive peer influences can help people improve their mental health and overcome the urge to drink alcohol or use various types of drugs.

Research has proven that the majority of adolescent drug users were introduced to substance abuse by their friends and social circles. While the influence of peer pressure lessens as an individual gets older, it can still have an impact on one’s behavior. For example, drunk driving is more likely to occur if an individual belongs to a social group that promotes heavy drinking. Additionally, most addicts belong to friend groups that are okay with heavy substance abuse.

So, how does peer pressure influence teen drinking or drug use? Let’s take a look at the connection between peer pressure and substance abuse.

Peer Pressure: The Social Learning Theory

Social scientists studying peer pressure have come up with something referred to as the “Social Learning Theory”. This theory displays how humans learn from each other or their peers. For example, when a high school student hangs out with their friends and sees them drinking, they begin learning about this behavior in several ways.

This theory explains exactly how peer pressure influences teen drinking or drug abuse. The mechanisms of social learning are referred to as social reinforcement, modeling behavior, and cognitive processes.

Social Reinforcement

Social reinforcement is the act of receiving consequences specific to certain social situations. In other words, this is described as experiencing backlash or support as a result of displaying certain behaviors among social groups.

Oftentimes, this is when teens succumb to negative peer pressure due to a fear of not being accepted or welcomed within their friend groups. For example, your friends judge you for not drinking at a party, so you begin to drink at parties in the future to be perceived as “cool” or a “part of the group”.

Modeling Behavior

This describes the act of an individual learning a new behavior by watching others who are doing it. This is where the phrase, “monkey see, monkey do” comes from. This learning mechanism is tied extremely closely to peer pressure. An example of modeling behavior is ordering an alcoholic drink when you see that all of your peer influences have one.

Cognitive Processing

Cognitive processes are thought processes associated with specific activities or situations. These thought processes may lead to an increased involvement if they are positive, or a decreased involvement when they are negative. For example, if someone were to speak positively about drinking, cognitive processing would cause an increase in drinking. On the other hand, negative opinions about drinking would cause a decrease in that specific behavior.

College Students and Drinking

When we think of peer pressure, we typically think of young people as they are the most heavily affected by peer pressure. This is because many young social circles are comprised of like-minded and similar-aged people. In other words, the uniformity of these groups creates a perfect storm for peer pressure to work.

This is especially true among college students. In fact, experts agree that, concerning alcohol, college-age kids are at the most risk for peer pressure influencing them to engage in substance abuse. This age is often referred to as the “window of vulnerability” because of increased rates of drinking and its role in the social life on college campuses.

Drug Abuse

Peer pressure works in the same way as drug abuse and alcohol abuse. However, alcohol abuse is more common than drug abuse due to its social acceptability. On the other hand, drug use is often linked to criminal activity and social deviance, causing this type of substance abuse to be less common. This occurs when an individual is a member of a social circle that promotes drug abuse and criminal activity.

Because of the social perceptions of substance abuse, peer pressure’s ability to push someone into an extreme activity such as drug abuse may be interrupted. It is important to note that certain kinds of peer pressure not only lead to hazardous short-term behavior, but they also can cause long-lasting, detrimental habits like an addiction.

Combating Peer Pressure and Substance Abuse

If you are feeling pressured to participate in an activity that makes you uncomfortable, utilize 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 stop asking you to do something you have no interest in.
  • If not, try suggesting a different activity to steer the conversation away from the unwanted topic.
  • Next, you could say you can’t participate because of certain responsibilities you need to attend to later or the next day (driving, taking care of siblings, etc.)
  • Leave the situation if peer pressure continues.

If your social circle continues to attempt to pressure you into participating in something that makes you uncomfortable, you should not hang out with those “friends”. These types of social situations are draining at best and dangerous at worst, leading to unwanted drinking, drug use, addiction, and other dangerous activities.

Research has suggested that if you’re in a group of friends where you feel uncomfortable trying a new experience, they may not be close friends, to begin with. However, the comfort of a close friend group allows people to let down their inhibitions and try new things, which is often dangerous if substance abuse is popular among that group.

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Peer pressure often influences teen drinking and substance abuse in general. This type of behavior often leads to dangerous adverse effects in the long-run, such as addiction and the development of substance use disorder. Regardless of whether or not peer pressure played a role in its development, addiction is extremely difficult to deal with alone.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to Florida Recovery Group. We can help you choose the right drug rehab for you. Help is ready and available, you just need to take the first step and reach out.