Peer Pressure, Drugs & Drinking

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will discuss peer pressure, how it is generally defined, and the impact it has on drugs and drinking. Some statistics will be reviewed and strategies for resisting peer pressure will be listed.

Introducing Peer Pressure

Mike is a normal 16-year-old high school sophomore. He just arrived at his friend Steve's party and is called over by a group of mutual friends to try a special potion they put together. When Mike asks if the drink contains alcohol, his friends reply and ask him what he thinks? Implying that this means it contains alcohol, Mike politely declines the offer, but his friends refuse to take no for an answer. They ask him if he's a scaredy-cat and tell him everyone else tried it so why doesn't he. Not wanting to lose the respect of his friends, Mike gives in and drinks the potion.

What is Peer Pressure?

Mike's experience at Steve's party is a perfect example of negative peer pressure that resulted in Mike's use of alcohol against his better judgment. Peer pressure is a powerful influence, and difficult to resist. Peers are people who are similar to us. They are typically similar in age, professional standing, and economic status, and generally spend a significant amount of time with us. Peer pressure exists when these peers exert undue influence on us to engage in behaviors we would normally not consider. Peer pressure can be negative or positive, but in both cases there is a strong urge to conform.

Positive peer pressure is influence that is applied to provide encouragement and/or bring about positive change. For example, someone who has recently decided to stop smoking, can receive encouragement through peer pressure. By reminding that person how much healthier they will be, how appreciative others are of their decision to stop smoking, and by encouraging them to replace the habit with exercise, you are providing positive support for their decision.

Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, occurs when the pressure applied encourages someone to engage in a behavior or action that is not in their best interest. This can include exerting pressure to have someone steal, engage in risky behavior, or use illegal drugs or alcohol.

Although teens and young adults are most vulnerable to peer pressure, the temptations to engage in risk-taking, illegal, or abusive behavior can persist into adulthood, especially for those who are easily swayed by others, or rely on others to support their self-esteem.

Vulnerability to Peer Pressure

Some people are more vulnerable to peer pressure than others. Risk factors that make someone more susceptible to peer influence include:

  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • No personal interests outside of being with friends
  • Fear of repercussions when not complying
  • Poor academic performance
  • Feeling isolated

Peer Pressure: Drugs and Drinking

As mentioned previously, the link between peer pressure and drugs and drinking is strongest from the early teen years into young adulthood. Involvement with illegal drugs and alcohol is risk-taking behavior that can have severe consequences including criminal charges, accidents, overdosing, addiction, and in some cases even death. Because many teens tend to live in the moment without much consideration for the future, potential consequences are often not considered prior to engaging in the use of drugs and alcohol.

Statistics on Teen Drug and Alcohol Use

To understand how serious the impact of peer pressure can be on teens who use drugs and alcohol consider some of the following statistics:

  • Prescription drug use is responsible for more teenage deaths than the use of heroin and cocaine combined.
  • The active ingredient in marijuana (THC) is 5 times stronger today than it was 20 years ago.
  • 60 percent of high school seniors don't view regular marijuana use as harmful, and 54 percent don't view regular steroid use as harmful.
  • By the 8th grade, 28% of teens have used alcohol, and 16.5% have tried marijuana.
  • By grade 12, nearly 75% of teens admit to using alcohol (more than a few sips).
  • Approximately 30% of teens are offered drugs or alcohol in middle and high school.

Resisting Negative Peer Pressure

Because peers can have such have such a strong influence on teens and young adults, and the pressure they exert on them can lead to risk-taking behaviors which encourage the use of illicit drugs and alcohol, it's important to consider some strategies that can help resist the urge to give in to negative peer pressure. These include:

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