Can Peer Pressure Actually Lead to Substance Abuse?

Peer pressure is often a high motivator in first-time users of alcohol or drugs. Some have the desire to fit in, while others are just curious about what using these drugs might be like. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a teenager to become addicted to certain types of drugs. In fact, with some prescription medications and heroin, it just takes once to set addiction in motion.

At the other end of the spectrum, peer pressure can be an effective tool for helping an individual step away from the world of drugs and turn towards sobriety. Peer pressure can be important, but it can also be harmful, depending on who is behind the pressure.

Reasons Peer Pressure Works

There are several reasons why peer pressure can lead to substance use in teens. Here are just a few.

  1. Social Learning– In their ever-developing brains, teens learn a lot about the world by looking at how others view it. They don’t have to do everything in order to learn. If they see someone stick their hand in a fire, they don’t need to do it themselves. They already saw it hurt. With alcohol and drugs, there is often an initial feeling of bliss, however. This is why many teens follow their peers and drink or begin to take drugs. They observe the “euphoria”  so they want to be happy as well.
  2. Inclusivity– A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that teens are more likely to participate in risky behavior when friends are present. Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that the presence of friends heightens activity in certain reward centers in the brain. Simply being aware that friends are watching stimulates these regions and is linked to these impulsive decisions.
  3. Fitting in- Some teens drink or do drugs simply because they want to fit in with the group. They want others to like them, so they do what their friends are doing. There’s a famous quote that says, “You will become the sum of the five people closest to you.” This is true for unhealthy behavior as well.
  4. Bullying– Even if your teen initially decides against drugs or drinking, she may give in because of taunts from others. When other teens bully, it can produce lasting effects on your teen, including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, which can make drinking alcohol or taking drugs that much more attractive.
  5. They’re Stuck– Many teens faced with peer pressure give in simply because they don’t know how to get out of the situation. They may not have the self-confidence to stand their ground and tell their friends that what they are doing is wrong. Instead, they consume alcohol or drugs.

How to Help Your Teen

When your teen is faced with pressure from her friends to use drugs, your help may be the way thing standing in the way of her giving in. Talk to you about alcohol and drugs and how quickly addiction can start. Provide her with a safe space to talk about these types of situations and let her know you’re there for her- any time of the day or night. Give her a way out. Let her use you as an excuse why she can’t go to the party.

At Greenbrier’s girl’s boarding school, we offer therapeutic options for girls facing anxiety, depression or even addiction. If your daughter needs help, contact our West Virginia boarding school for girls.

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