The Role of Peer Pressure in Addiction

Updated on 08/02/23

Content reviewed by Gillian Bieler, LCSW, CSAT

Peer pressure is an inevitable aspect of living amongst other human beings. From early childhood to the teenage years, peer pressure is especially intense, as kids develop their own identities and gain acceptance to social groups. Adults also experience considerable pressure in a culture where alcohol and drug use is ubiquitous. How can a person resist negative social influences to avoid addiction? This article will describe peer pressure, its connection to addiction and how a person can stand strong against it.

Social origins begin in adolescence.

Children blossoming into their tween and teenage years face mounting pressure from peers to behave in particular ways. Peer pressure causes an individual to engage in activities they normally wouldn’t if it was up to their own conscience. Pressure from peers can sometimes be used to describe positive influences like studying for an exam, participating in clubs or playing for a sports team.

However, it is frequently suggestive of negative influences like shoplifting, skipping class, using drugs or drinking. The influence of others begins to materialize when children become aware of what others think of them. You can probably imagine a pair of young kids blaming each other for “making them” cause a mishap on the playground.

The different types of peer pressure.

There are five different types of peer pressure that you can experience. They are:

#1. Spoken peer pressure.

Spoken pressure involves directly asking or coercing a person to do something. This tends to be a one-on-one interaction where a person has a better chance of saying no and walking away. When this occurs in a group, this form of pressure can be more influential, due to wanting to please the group.

#2. Unspoken peer pressure.

Unspoken pressure manifests as decisions made by a group that an individual is subject to. For instance, if your friends are all drinking, you might be compelled to join in with them.

#3. Direct peer pressure.

This type can be either unspoken or spoken. Without you asking, your friend might hand you an alcoholic beverage. They might even say “You’re no fun!” when you refuse. Engaging in the group activity becomes a requirement to belong and enjoy the occasion. This can be very stressful, and you might cave despite your values and beliefs.

#4. Indirect peer pressure.

Indirect pressure is more subtle. It occurs when your personal view is influenced by the popular opinion of a group you highly regard. No one influences how you feel in these situations; you arrive at your perspectives on your own.

#5. Negative/positive peer pressure.

As described earlier, persistent negative influences can lead to consequences, like a drug or alcohol addiction that may require medical detox and treatment in a residential program. Such negativity harms your mental health; you abandon your core values and lose a sense of your identity. Positive pressure can lead you in the opposite direction towards activities that promote well-being and success.

Peer pressure is common among all age ranges.

Peer pressure is particularly influential in adolescent behavior because children are still developing the parts of the brain associated with decision-making and impulse control. However, human beings are social creatures that desire acceptance into one or another social group, no matter their age. Adults can cave in from peer pressure every now and then similar to kids, although adults tend to be more adept at resisting influences.

Despite this resilience, the pressure to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use other drugs is an enduring feature in many facets of adult social life. Whether at the bar, brunch, a wedding, funeral or BBQ, someone is always holding a beer or smoking outside. College campuses, festivals and parties are hosts to a variety of psychedelics and other illicit drugs. Addictive substances can be hard to evade. This constant social pressure to use can provoke an individual to experiment and end in addiction.

How can adults resist peer pressure?

In a culture where alcohol and drug use is prevalent, how can a person possibly resist? The first thing you can do is to reflect on your values and be honest with yourself. What matters most in life? What do you want your future to look like? Stick to your core values and let them guide your actions. Other tips include:

  • Avoid new peers who use substances
  • Let go of old friendships that serve as negative influences
  • Ask yourself how you feel about the current situation
  • Find friends that are positive influences and support your sobriety
  • Practice saying no, especially when the pressure is unspoken
  • Stand up for others when they are being pressured
  • Make eye contact and be assertive with peers who are offering substances
  • Learn from past mistakes of giving in instead of feeling guilty
  • Practice identifying types of peer pressure in social situations

Peer pressure can influence adults to use drugs or alcohol. Because frequent use can lead to a substance use disorder, it is important to learn how to oppose negative influences with confidence. By joining our community of recovering patients at Casa Palmera, you will find others who share the same values of maintaining sobriety for the long term. Contact us today for more information.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.