February 26, 2020

Peer Pressure, Drugs, and Your Teenager

“If your friends say, “Let’s go out and get drunk,” you don’t say, “Oh my gosh, well, DARE teaches me not to.” You don’t stop and think about it. You just go and do what your friends do. Does DARE help you deal with peer pressure? No! You’re just going to follow your friends.

~Editors James D. Orcutt and David R. Rudy, Drugs, Alcohol, and Social Problems

Children’s behavior is shaped by their environment. Their first influences are their parents – they learn how to act at home from their mother and father. Next, they learn how to act at school from their teachers. Finally, they learn how to act in their outside world from their friends and peers.

Who your child hangs around with – and the behaviors they learn – plays a bigger part in their potential safety than you ever thought, especially in terms of substance experimentation and use.

“Hardwired into Our Brains”

A  2011 study by the University of Southern California suggests that human beings are genetically “programmed” to perceive more value in winning within a group than individually. According to researchers, this explains why people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors when their friends are watching.

In other words, it is only human nature to want to “go along” in order to be part of group.

Peer Pressure and Teen Behaviors

But how does this genetic programming – i.e., susceptibility to peer pressure – influence the behavior of teenagers? Let’s take a look at some statistics:

  • 70% of teenagers who smoke cigarettes say they began smoking because they had friends who smoke, or because they felt pressured to try it.
  • 55% of teenagers who tried drugs self-report doing so because of peer pressure.
  • Teens who see favorable images on social media of other teenagers drinking are 3 times more likely to try alcohol.

What about Positive Peer Pressure?

However, there is good news.

Peer pressure also positively influences your teenager’s behavior. In 2011, a research team at Harvard University discovered that peer pressure causes measurable changes within the areas of the brain associated with determining subjective reward and value.

Jamil Zaki, one of the members of the research team, expanded on this by saying, “…what you like and are motivated by can be really altered by what people around you like and find motivated to them.

Furthermore, he said that this peer influence can extend to the classroom: “It’s not just that you will want to learn because you want to compete with them or want to fit in, but you will actually perceive the academic work privately as more rewarding.”

Dealing with Negative Peer Pressure

In conclusion, here are some helpful tips for parents and teenagers on how to resist undesirable peer pressure:


  • Build your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • Teach your child to be assertive.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Get to know your child’s friends.
  • Encourage open communication, so your child knows that can come to you if they are feeling pressured.
  • Finally, create a “backup plan” to help your child get out of uncomfortable situations. For example, let them know that they can always call you to come get them, NO QUESTIONS ASKED.


  • Choose who you associate with wisely.
  • Stand up for what YOU believe it and know to be right.
  • Have at least one other friend who successfully resists negative peer pressure.
  • Of special relevance, if you’re feeling pressured, talk to your parents or another adult that you trust.

For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers have offered alcohol and drug recovery services for teens and families in crisis. By using a unique approach that addresses your teenager’s needs as an individual, Teensavers can give your child the tools they need to live a successful, substance-free life.

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