Peer pressure is often linked to addiction, particularly in teenagers and young adults. These formative years are the ones in which people feel the most pressure to fit in and find a group to belong to. When people that they respect are involved in things like drugs and alcohol, peer pressure can make it very difficult for a child to say no to trying them. In fact, a study by Columbia University found that a child is up to six times more likely to have an alcoholic drink if they have friends who drink.

However, although this problem is generally thought of as a teenage issue, research has shown that peer pressure may well carry through all age groups, as peer groups continue to exist throughout adult life.

In studies by the government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre, results suggested that young people aged 11 to 15 are actually drinking, using drugs and smoking less than in previous decades, and the number of school children who have tried illegal drugs has halved in just 10 years.

Meanwhile, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that drug use, particularly that of ecstasy and cocaine, was on the rise in 16 to 24 year olds. These findings indicate that, although the pressure to conform and fit in is at its most intense during teenage years, young adults are just as, if not more, vulnerable to peer pressure.

Older adults, too, can be vulnerable to peer pressure. In many ways, because they are not looking for approval to the same degree as younger people and feel more capable of making their own decisions, they could be more susceptible. A large number of adults of all ages drink more than is healthy simply because this is the only way that they think they are able to have a social life. Taking drugs, gambling and drinking are normalised in adult peer groups, meaning that it is difficult not to engage in these activities since the opportunity to do so is ever present.


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Peer pressure and risky behaviour

In a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it was found that teenagers are more likely to perform risky behaviours, including speeding and running traffic lights, if their friends are watching. In these studies, even if the participants weren’t actively encouraged to perform the behaviours, they still did so when their friends were looking on.

As part of the study, participants had their brains scanned, and the areas of the brain which calculate risk and determine the value of reward showed heightened activity when the subject’s friends were present. In short, the mere presence of their peer group caused the person to calculate risk versus reward differently than they would if they were alone.


How risky behaviour leads to substance abuse

But what does this have to do with addiction? Put simply, drugs and alcohol are socially understood to be on the riskier end of activities, and when a person has their guard down in an attempt to fit in and impress their friends, taking part in these activities is likely.

Alcohol and drugs also stimulate parts of the brain which release dopamine and serotonin, chemicals which make us feel bonded and happy. When taking part in these activities with a peer group, a person will start to get addicted to the feelings that they get from ‘breaking the rules’ as such, as well as the feelings triggered by the substances themselves.

There are several other risk factors for young people who develop substance abuse issues, identified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These include:

Lack of parental supervision

Availability of drugs or alcohol


Aggressive behaviour

Previous substance use

Many of these factors contribute to the chances of a young person developing an addiction, as substances help them to cope with social problems such as an absent parent or problems at school.


How parents can beat peer pressure

Even though children begin to put more stock in what their friends think as they get older, parental influence is still very important to them. Children look to their parents as an example of how to live their lives, even when they become teenagers, meaning that handled properly a parent has the opportunity to challenge the negative influence of the peer group.

The best thing that parents can do to help their children is to create a loving and supportive home environment, where children feel that they can talk about anything. A lot of parents make the mistake of forbidding their children from certain activities, meaning that their kids are more likely to become detached and secretive. If teenagers feel that they can talk to their parents, then they can get help if they need it, and parents have the opportunity to intervene before a situation goes from bad to worse.

Some ways in which parents can help to set boundaries regarding drugs or alcohol, whilst still remaining supportive, include:

Picking up and dropping off their children at parties and events where there may be drinking or drug taking.

Offering information about alcohol and drug taking which is truthful and balanced.

Teaching the importance of thinking things through before acting on them.

Encouraging teenagers to come to them with any problem, without fear of being punished.


How positive peer pressure aids recovery

The upside of peer pressure is that it doesn’t always have to be negative. A great example of positive peer pressure is the kind that you receive in recovery. Being in rehab with other people that are trying to get clean and sober can encourage addicts to try harder with their detox, as they know that their friends are watching and getting healthy with them.

At Ocean Recovery Centre, addicts are able to get individual counselling but also group sessions, where they can share their thoughts and struggles with people that are going through exactly the same thing as them. Social activities and wellbeing therapies are performed in groups and there is always trained staff to talk to when things get tough.

The benefits of recovering with groups work in exactly the same way as forming addictions in the first place, which actually allows the addict to use the thing that led them down the path of addiction to their benefit.

If you would like to talk to us about yours or a loved ones situation then please call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, and the team at Ocean Recovery Centre will get straight back to you.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: January 13, 2022

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.