teenage peer pressure

How Does Peer Pressure Affect Drug Use in Adolescents

04-18-2023Recovery Tools

While there are many factors involved in the decisions that young people make, we find that some of the most significant remained the same over the years. Peer pressure is, and always has been, one of the most significant factors in the decisions teens and young adults make.

Peer pressure plays a significant role in influencing the behavior of teens. The desire to fit in with their peers and gain social acceptance can drive adolescents to engage in risky behaviors such as substance use, even if they may initially find the idea unappealing.

However, there is a less discussed form of peer pressure, known as positive peer pressure. In this article, we’ll discuss both kinds of peer pressure, and provide some practical solutions for parents to utilize as they work with their teens to navigate these trying years.

How peer pressure affects drug use in teens

In recent years we have seen that substance abuse among adolescents has become increasingly common among teenagers. Teenagers are at a higher likelihood of trying and becoming addicted to drugs and one of the most influential factors is peer pressure.

The normalization of marijuana

As marijuana use has become more normal in society at large, it has increasingly become the case that teens using marijuana is the norm and not the exception.

One of our substance abuse counselors recently observed that teens in schools are increasingly reporting that the “stoner crowd” is no longer a group in schools. In the student’s words, “Every group is now the stoner crowd.”

Another one of our counselors recently observed that since marijuana became legalized in Arizona, her evaluations for nicotine use dropped off 100%, and got replaced by pot-evaluations.

The normalization of trying harder drugs

We’ve observed over the last few years that teens are increasingly likely to enter our program with things like benziodiazepines (specifically Xanax), as opposed to the classic drugs like marijuana and alcohol.

Since it’s become normal to use drugs in some capacity, the proposition of doing harder drugs is less of a leap for teens than it used to be.

The resistance to getting help

Teens (and young adults) who enter our program often struggle with the fact that their friends, who are still using, appear to be having a great time and are willing to accept them back at a moment’s notice.

This peer pressure to return to drug use is ever present for today’s teens, especially those in their first 90 days of sobriety. Coupled with the phenomenon of “euphoric recall” (the phenomenon by which a newly-sober drug user only recalls the good times and never the bad), this presents a big challenge for teens.

Positive Peer Pressure vs Negative Peer Pressure

It’s important to note that peer pressure on its own isn’t a bad thing. Peer pressure can have both positive and negative effects.

Think about the teen who feels the pressure to improve their academic performance because they are surrounded by other young people who are doing the same thing.

Peer groups play a significant role in adolescent development as they provide a form of social support for adolescents. Positive peer pressure can influence healthy behaviors in adolescents such as:

  • Getting good grades

  • Joining a sports team

  • Remaining abstinent from substances

Positive peer pressure can influence at-risk youth to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol, learn to have fun without drugs, and develop a new positive social group.

Why positive peer pressure is part of the solution

Even in adulthood, we are affected by those around us. For teens, this effect is amplified because they haven’t fully formed their identities yet.

One of the observations we’ve made over decades of experience working with teens is that simply telling teens to “stop hanging around old friends” isn’t enough – it needs to be replaced by something else.

This is where positive peer pressure comes in.

Teens who are surrounded by young people who are interested in leading a sober life tend to see the benefits of sobriety and be honest with each other.

They tend to stay sober longer and restart the process of discovering who they are!

Why peer pressure is so strong for teens

As a young person grows out of childhood and into their teenage years, they start to become increasingly independent from their parents, forming their own identity. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the influence of peer pressure as they go through this transition.

It’s normal and common for teens to feel insecure or inadequate during the transition from childhood into adolescence. Through their search for independence and identity, they may feel the need to conform to the social norms and values of their peer group In order to: 

  • Feel accepted

  • Avoid rejection

  • Feel like they are a part of their group

Teens are more susceptible to peer pressure as they strive to fit in and be accepted among their peers. It can be challenging for teens to stand up against them. This is especially true when the pressure to try drugs comes from close friends or family members who they admire.

Can teens resist peer pressure?

While peer pressure is one of the strongest influences on adolescent drug use, it’s important to remember that they are not “helpless”.

In our teen support groups, we are often working with teens to develop strategies that will help them resist negative peer pressure, here are some tips we often give teens to help with this:

  • Have an escape plan: It’s important that they know when to get out of a situation, especially if their gut is telling them something isn’t right.

  • Have someone who is willing to back you up: Encourage them to have a conversation with a friend of theirs that doesn’t use substances. This friend can help back them up so they don’t feel like the only one who is saying no.

  • Be surrounded by positive influences: The best way to resist negative peer pressure is to surround yourself with people who do not use substances, making it easier to avoid such situations.

Parenting teens to help guide their choices

Parents play a critical role in guiding their teenagers to make healthy choices. By creating a positive environment, parents can encourage healthy behavior and make drug use less appealing. 

Here are some tips for parents to help guide their teens:

Build Open Communication. Encourage open and honest communication between you and your teenager. Parents should create a safe and comfortable environment to discuss peer relationships and the pressures they may face.

  • Set Boundaries. Establish clear boundaries and ground rules regarding drug use. Ensure that the consequences of breaking these rules are discussed and enforced.

  • Monitor Behavior. Stay aware of changes in behavior that may signal drug use. Parents should keep an eye on how their teenagers are spending their time and who they are spending it with.

  • Offer Positive Activities. Encourage positive, healthy activities and hobbies that will allow for positive social interactions with peers who consistently make healthy decisions.

  • Get Involved. Stay involved in your teenager’s life, including their academic, social and extracurricular activities. Support them in their interests while staying aware of behaviors that may signal unhealthy choices.

Ask for Help. Teens often will rebel against their parents, and many parents find this frustrating, especially if they know their teen might also be participating in high-risk behaviors.

Asking for help before it turns into a full-blown substance use disorder may help with drug prevention for your teen. We recommend seeking the counsel of a recovery specialist who has experience working with teens and substance abuse. Another way to learn from others is to seek a parent support group in your area who can help you with your specific situation.

In Conclusion: Adolescent drug use and peer pressure

It’s common for teenagers to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco; especially when peer pressure is involved. However, adolescent drug use can lead to dangerous consequences.

The adolescent brain is still developing, and drug use can interfere with that development, leading to long-term negative effects. Studies have found that drug-affected brains can lead to impaired judgment, poor concentration, and impaired emotional regulation. 

Despite the many dangers of drug use, many teenagers continue to experiment with drugs, especially when peer pressure is involved.

It is important for a parent to stay involved and present in the lives of adolescents, so that they are able to support the development of healthy and meaningful relationships and provide guidance and support in times of peer pressure.