Peer Pressure and Drug Addiction

What is meant by peer pressure? Peer pressure can apply if you are part of a social group that like to use drugs. Every weekend when you go out with them, they call you “boring” because you say no to drugs. You feel that your friends might not invite you out if you do not fit in. You tell yourself you will try drugs only once but, for many people, it doesn’t end there with just the one try.

The idea that only very young people in their teenage years will use drugs in order to fit in with their social group is a popular concept.  The reality is very different.

Peer pressure can work both ways. Peer pressure might mean that a young person refuses to use drugs in order to fit in with their social group. Alternatively, and perhaps more commonly, peer pressure can make other people feel obliged to use a specific drug at a certain time.

Is peer pressure limited purely to young people? The National Office of Statistics shows that drug misuse occurs across an age range of 16 to 59-year-olds within the population of England and Wales.

The idea that only young people will do anything to fit in with their social group does not fit with the facts that many drug users are aged between 16 and 24 when they first begin to use drugs.  Many go on to develop an addiction.

The reality is that people use drugs because they want to. They might want to experiment with drugs in their younger years. They might choose to continue to use drugs throughout adulthood.


Peer group age and influences

To consider the issue of peer group pressure, it must be recognised that peer groups exist across the whole of society. Studies carried out by the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre found that young people aged 11 to 15 are moving away from using drink, drugs and smoking. The number of schoolchildren who have tried illegal drugs has almost halved over the last 10 years.

A study carried out by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, discovered that cocaine and ecstasy use is on the rise in young people aged between 16 and 24. This suggests that peer pressure is not limited to the teenage group in which the pressure to conform is arguably at its height and the ability to resist is not yet fully developed.

A survey carried out by the Guardian Newspaper for a report published in 2017 revealed that people in the age group 25 to 30 find themselves pressured by friends to use drugs as part of the weekly socialising event.

This suggests that the pressure to conform by friends does not reduce post-adolescence.

Once someone becomes addicted to drugs, then the social group in which they mix is likely to consist of drug addicts. In these circumstances, the use of the terminology “peer pressure” is appropriate. However, there are also likely to be friends and family members who are not using drugs but, by this stage, positive peer pressure has no effect upon the person in danger of succumbing to addiction.

During the stages of recovery from drug addiction to sobriety, the changing of social groups is imperative to maintain abstinence.  Drug users find that reminders of people and places are powerful triggers towards relapse.


Positive peer pressure

Peer pressure can be supportive as well as destructive.  There are many websites available to people of all ages with information on how to resist peer pressure. The charity ChildLine advises young people to visit their website if they are feeling pressured into using drugs.

In some social groups, there is a different type of peer pressure. The pressure is not to use particular types of drugs. Other pressure can be applied to not use particular types of drugs in a particular type of way.

Every group of friends is different and they have different rules on what is acceptable and what is not. Each group of friends normally set the rules with a view to protect members from harm.

Using terminology such as “peer pressure” is often inadequate. The phrase does not really encompass why people take drugs, what they get out of taking drugs, and why they use them in the way they use them. The concept that peer pressure alone is responsible for the choices that people make can be unhelpful when trying to understand the motivation behind drug use.


Other influences

Research shows that some people may be more predisposed to using drugs than others. Trying drugs for the first time might be a response to extreme stress or plain curiosity.

Other factors to consider are the effects of mental and emotional ill-health as a result of stress, bereavement, loneliness and isolation. Any one of these situations could lead someone to try drugs as a method of dealing with difficult emotions.

It might be that a person is already experiencing any of the above emotions and the additional pressure from their peer group to use drugs in order to feel better acts as a catalyst rather than a cause.

Under times of extreme stress, some people find it difficult to confide in others. This applies to people of all ages. When the decision is made to try drugs for the first time to alleviate stress you might be telling yourself you will only do this once. The decision to use drugs can happen without peer pressure.

It is not unheard of for people to try to identify with someone who has celebrity status. A lack of confidence and poor self-image might lead someone to emulate a celebrity.

If that celebrity is either pro- or anti-drug use, then an impressionable person could follow their lead with either positive or negative consequences.

The reasons why people begin to use drugs and develop an addiction are varied and complex. Using terms like “peer pressure” can be unhelpful as it simplifies the underlying causes behind drug misuse.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing pressure from their social group to try drugs and are finding it difficult to say no then it is better to seek help in the early stages.  Remember, addiction always begins with the first use.

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