Substance abuse in teens is often linked with peer pressure. The fear of missing out, or pressure from peers to “just try it once” can lead to a debilitating substance abuse problem.
Furthermore, problems at home or underlying mental health disorders can worsen the addiction.
Find out how peer pressure can play a role in your teens’ drug abuse, and how you can help them seek help today.
Yes, there is a confirmed link between peer pressure and substance abuse, especially in teenagers and college students. (1) These environments are commonly subject to drug peer pressure as these individuals explore their newfound freedom from home and become curious about the world around them.
The new ability to attend parties and have fun can lead to a desire to fit in and engage in behaviors they might not attempt alone, such as imbibing drugs and alcohol. The social high that comes with being in a new place with new people all having a good time can be a persuasive trigger, especially when the individual is not aware of the potential consequences of the drug use.
This exploration, combined with the availability of drugs in and around these campuses can push teenagers to begin using drugs as a way to establish themselves as social peers themselves.
“Peer pressure contributes significantly to binge drinking on college campuses[…]”
Once established as a peer, they can feel pressure to continue the drug use, as well as pressure others to be more like them. Teenagers who do not use drugs may not see the harm in trying it once or twice; they may be curious about how it feels, especially if the peer group appears to be enjoying themselves.
Furthermore, drug use may be a social condition to fitting in with their desired group. Drugs can cause the group to feel included in something, a sort of social pact between individuals.
It may also be a part of a hazing ritual, where students are subjected to a certain environment or behavior as a way of initiating them into the group and ensuring that they are accepting of certain extremes.
Humans are notoriously social creatures, and when exploring something new or trying to fit in with a certain social group, teenagers and adults alike are susceptible to peer pressure, even if it includes doing something that they would not normally do on their own.
It can be easy to get swept up in the moment and persuaded to do something that makes you feel accepted by your peers, especially if you do not know the extent of the consequences.
This type of peer pressure can easily result in addiction as the drug activates the reward centers of the brain, and it becomes associated with the activity and being around that group of peers.
This is how individuals can easily get wrapped up in social groups they might otherwise not mesh with and begin “running with the wrong crowd.”
This is a difficult number to assess as not all teens will be truthful about their history of drug abuse. However, recent surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimate that 30% of all teenagers begin abusing drugs or alcohol in either middle school or high school resulting from peer pressure.
75% of all high school sophomores are estimated to have abused alcohol at some point during high school. Many of these surveyed students blame peer pressure as their reason, and the risks go up as these students enter college, where parties are much more common and alcohol is more abundant and accessible. Aside from alcohol, drug use is less common in middle school but becomes more prevalent as students go through high school and college.
Peer pressure can have negative effects on your teenager’s sense of self-confidence and self-worth, even if they do not engage in drug use. The negative effects of peer pressure in a situation like this can cause feelings of helplessness or sadness.
This constant pressure can lead to chronic stress and fear of alienation or isolation from their friend group, causing anxiety and potentially triggering depressive episodes. This stress can easily result in lower grades or unwillingness to engage in hobbies or social activities.
Loss of motivation, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety around meeting up with their social group or going to school can occur as a symptom of negative peer pressure.
There are many examples of negative peer pressure in encouraging your teen to use drugs or alcohol. The desire to fit in with a social group is strong during this stage of life, as they begin to explore the world on their own and branch out from the family home.
Examples of peer pressure in substance abuse can include friends offering alcohol or drugs during a party or other social situation.
Likewise, encouraging the use of drugs and alcohol for acceptance into the social group, or verbally pressuring or guilting the individual into trying illicit substances can be enough to pressure them into trying the substance.
We often think of peer pressure as a negative thing; a group of teens pressuring your child into doing drugs or trying to get them to do something that they wouldn’t do on their own. Contrary to this popular belief, peer pressure is not always an active pursuit with malicious intent.
Often, peers will not even realize that they are pressuring your teen into something, but rather trying to include them in their activities.
Furthermore, peer pressure is not always bad. While it is commonly thought of as a negative influence, positive peer pressure can provide a suitable set of habits and lifestyle choices that your teen looks up to as a healthy and functional way of living.
Positive peer pressure can be a valuable tool in helping teens navigate drug abuse and negative peer pressure as well.
Positive peer pressure is an important aspect of recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. This positive influence can help your teen become more goal-oriented and motivated to pursue productive pursuits, finding joy and acceptance in a healthy social group.
These pursuits may be anything from getting better at sports, improving self-care routines, pursuing an academic interest, or finding new hobbies. Often, drugs and alcohol are a stand-in for unmet needs, seeking social acceptance from a peer group, or finding a place where they feel like they belong.
With a healthy influence in their life, a social group with positive peer pressure can be difficult to find, but instrumental in helping your teen recover from drug abuse or prevent them from engaging in these dangerous activities.
It is important to talk to your teen about how to say no to drugs. Saying no to drugs can be an awkward or uncomfortable experience, especially if they have struggled with substance abuse in the past.
A simple “No thank you” can suffice, but peers and social groups will often want an explanation to satiate their own curiosity.
It is important that your teen is not afraid to give the real answer. “I don’t want to be involved in this,” or “I don’t want to get kicked off the sports team,” or “I’m making some changes in my life and don’t want to drink.”
If they persist, it is important to help your teen understand where their boundaries are. If they feel uncomfortable with drug use in the vicinity or are being pressured into something they don’t want to do despite rejecting the substance, it is acceptable to become more forceful in saying no.
In the case of alcohol, if your teen can drive, it can help to assign themselves as their friends’ dedicated driver. This should be started early in the night so everyone knows not to offer them anything, and lets friends know that they have a ride home. Not only does this reduce the risk of drunk driving on the streets, but gives your teen an excuse to deflect some of the social pressure that can come with drinking.
If your teen is offered drinks after rejecting them repeatedly, saying something along the lines of “I’ve said no, and I’m not going to change my mind. Please stop asking” is often effective. If this does not stop the peer pressure, your teen can turn around and leave the activity entirely, removing themselves from the activity.
It can be an emotional experience to see the symptoms of drug abuse, but it is important to always communicate with your teen openly and healthily, holding back knee-jerk reactions and emotional outbursts as much as possible.
Calm and direct communication is important and can help communicate that you care about ensuring their health and safety over punishing certain actions or activities.
While drug use may be seen as the hip or cool thing to do in school, they may be afraid of punishment at home for using drugs. They may even hide evidence of their addiction from friends, as the stigma around addiction can make teens uncharacteristically secretive about the problem.
This often makes it difficult for parents or loved ones to approach the situation openly, but communication is an important step to creating a safe space for your teen.
When discussing their addiction, pay careful attention to the language you use around the subject; blame or anything that can be misconstrued as blame may cause them to clam up and can make the addiction stronger.
Instead, focus on creating a safe space for them to open up about their feelings and struggles, and do your best to understand, even if you can’t place yourself in their shoes.
It is important to encourage them to seek professional help and facilitate healthy habits, rewarding abstinence, and progress.
As a parent or loved one, it can be difficult to reach out to your teen once they begin using drugs. During this stage in life, they are less likely to interact and be open with family members, withdrawing as they seek validation from outside the family home.
Still, creating an open space where your teen can talk about drug use safely, in an environment where they won’t feel accused or reprimanded is an important part of getting them to confide in you. (2)
Creating a safe space in the home where they can be vulnerable with their thoughts, emotions, and actions without fear is an important part of keeping your teen safe as they explore the world.
If your teen has already gotten involved in drugs, creating this space can prevent their addiction from worsening, and make it easier to help them seek professional help and treatment, as they know that they can come to you with their problems.
“[…]it’s a good idea to just talk to them one-on-one to not scare them or make them run, shut-down or to feel like they are bad. Listen, listen, listen and don’t accuse them.”
If you are concerned about your teen and are having difficulty getting them to open up about a potential addiction, there are other signs that you can watch for.
If your teen avoids contact with any family members that express concern, or if they begin losing interest in hobbies and activities, these may be signs that your teen is dealing with an addiction or mental illness.
Physical symptoms may include bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, unexplained burns, or chronically runny noses or nosebleeds. A loss of appetite or periodic binge eating, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, and unexplained mood swings can also be important symptoms to keep an eye on. These are all characteristics of drug abuse and the mental illnesses that commonly accompany it.
Peer pressure and substance abuse can go hand-in-hand. At the Red River Treatment Center, we understand the contributions that peer pressure can have on addiction and have developed therapy and counseling programs to help teens through the experience and recovery period.
To inquire about getting help for your teen, give our center a call today. One of our staff members will walk you through the next steps for seeking inpatient rehabilitation or treatment programs.
1. Forbes, Spring Break’s Greatest Danger, https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2014/03/11/spring-breaks-greatest-danger/?sh=626291aa553f
2. Huffpost, Cries for Help: 10 Signs of Addiction, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cries-for-help-10-signs-o_b_11796030