Peer Pressure and Alcohol

Peer pressure is commonly associated with teens. However, people of all ages and backgrounds can fall victim to negative influences, especially when alcohol is involved. Knowing more about peer pressure, how to avoid it and ways to turn down a drink could help prevent alcohol abuse.
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Peer pressure is the influence you feel from others to do something you otherwise would not. A peer could be a friend, co-worker, classmate, acquaintance or anyone you admire.

Peer pressure may occur directly or indirectly. Direct pressure involves peers explicitly asking you to do something. Indirect pressure happens when you witness others engaging in an activity and are motivated to do the same.

Peer Pressure Can Lead to Alcohol Use

It could occur in a workplace, school or via social media. Social media and alcohol use have become intertwined over the years. A report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found 75 percent of surveyed teens feel encouraged to drink after seeing photographs of peers partying on social media.

Peer pressure can be positive or negative. Positive peer pressure could motivate individuals to exercise, display integrity and avoid drugs or alcohol.

Common activities associated with negative peer pressure are:

  • Consuming drugs or alcohol
  • Stealing
  • Cheating
  • Gossiping
  • Other risky behaviors

Peer pressure can lead to alcohol abuse. It helps diminish a gene that prevents people from developing alcohol problems, per a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Saying no can protect individuals from a host of consequences.

Who Is Affected by Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure is generally linked to adolescence. However, adults can also be influenced, especially when alcohol is involved.

Teens and Adults

Teens are most influenced by their peers. Though teens weigh the risks and rewards of an activity just as adults do, teens are more likely to ignore the risk for the reward when their peers are present, according to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Young people enjoying a party and beer

This is partly because of brain structure. The systems of the brain that respond to reward are easily aroused during adolescence. This attracts teens to risky behaviors, including alcohol consumption, and makes them particularly vulnerable to peer influence.

Additionally, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, teens tend to overestimate how much their friends drink.

Adults, like teens, worry about what others think of them. They want to fit in and avoid awkwardness. Consequently, they are pressured to drink, either directly or indirectly, at company-sponsored functions or social situations where alcohol is present.

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Single-Parent Households and Blended Families

Children from single-parent households or blended families are especially vulnerable, according to a University of Wisconsin study.

The report, which evaluated nearly 7,000 children aged 12 to 17, found that children who grew up in a household with both natural parents were less susceptible to pressure from friends. Children raised by a natural parent and a stepparent were just as likely to give in to peer pressure as those in single-parent homes.

Brett Laursen, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, says children with few friends are likely to be swayed by peer pressure. He says boys generally want to impress groups while girls aim to impress particular individuals.

How to Avoid Peer Pressure

People should never be pressured to drink alcohol against their own wishes and judgment. Giving in to temptation can be dangerous for teens and adults. Knowing how to turn down a drink is invaluable.

Ways to Say No

There are a number of ways to say no to alcohol:

  • Simply say “no thank you.”
  • Change the topic.
  • Suggest a different activity.
  • Enlist friends for support.
  • Leave the situation.

You could also say you don’t drink. It’s simple, to the point and truthful. If you are recovering from alcoholism, this is your best answer.

Adults at social functions have additional excuses:

  • “I am driving home.”
  • “I am a designated driver tonight.”
  • “I have to take care of my children when I get back”
  • “I have to wake up early tomorrow morning.”

When turning down a drink, be confident. You can build confidence by rehearsing what to say in these situations. Practicing your responses in advance allows you to critique your approach and change your phrasing.

To avoid feeling pressured to drink, attend activities that don’t involve alcohol. These settings could include coffeehouses, movie theaters, malls, fitness centers or your home.

Nonalcoholic Alternatives

In social settings, adults can turn to nonalcoholic drinks as an alternative. For example, mixing water and juice in a small glass could give the impression of a mixed alcoholic drink. This helps reduce peer pressure.

Consequences of Saying Yes

Each day, crowds of people succumb to peer pressure. However, doing so can lead to a number of problems.

Why Do People Say Yes?

People give in to peer pressure for a number of reasons:

  • They want to be liked.
  • They want to fit in and avoid feeling like an “outsider.”
  • They want to avoid ridicule.
  • They want to be rebellious.
  • They are trying to escape the pressures of school or work.
  • They are interested in trying something new.

Individuals are more likely to give into peer pressure in social settings and are more likely to drink if those around them are. When attending social settings alone, a person’s odds of drinking increase.

How Tash Found Sobriety

Tash used alcohol to fit in with her new friends. When it didn’t work, she turned to therapy to quit drinking and cope with depression and anxiety.

Read Her Story

Loss of Authenticity

Allowing others to make decisions for you can jeopardize your originality, self-esteem, happiness and physical and mental health. It could also alienate individuals from their family members and true friends.

Peers who pressure you to do something against your desires likely aren’t your friends. Saying yes gives them more power and diminishes your own.

Effects of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol are dangerous. Alcohol affects parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment and memory. Heavy consumption can lead to blurred vision, slowed speech, impaired memory and difficulty walking.

Statistics on alcohol abuse in the United States:

  • In 2014, 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder. That is nearly 7 percent of the age group.
  • In 2014, about 679,000 adolescents ages 12–17 had an AUD, or nearly 3 percent of the age group.
  • Nearly 35 percent of 15-year-olds reported that they have had at least one drink in their lives.

Peer pressure is an epidemic among young people. In 2014, nearly 60 percent of full-time college students had drunk alcohol in the past month. Many students drink at bars or house parties, where peer pressure is common.

Consistently giving in to peer pressure can lead to frequent alcohol consumption. This could lead to alcohol problems or an alcohol addiction.

Outcomes of Saying No

Resisting peer pressure can be difficult, but the pros of doing so far outweigh the cons.

Several Benefits

Saying no to alcohol despite peer pressure has a host of benefits, as individuals:

  • Avoid effects of alcohol
  • Increase chances of arriving home safely
  • Avoid driving while intoxicated
  • Feel more self-control and confidence

Less alcohol consumption could give way to a healthier lifestyle, letting you engage in safe activities alongside loved ones. You avoid the consequences of alcohol, stressful situations and negative influences.

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Potential Push-Back

It is common for peers to shame individuals for turning down a drink. A study published in Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal found shame to be the strongest predictor of vulnerability to peer pressure.

Lonely Teen with Group

Teens are most likely to give into shame. A study published in PeerJ suggests early life experiences are a predictor of someone’s vulnerability to shame, specifically those abused as children. The report also linked shame with substance abuse.

You may be ridiculed, not invited to future get-togethers or lose relationships with certain individuals. However, this should not discourage you.

Be Yourself

Don’t be a victim of someone else’s behaviors. Make sure there is someone to call if you are feeling pressured to drink in social situations. Plan an escape if the temptation becomes great. Your peers should not control your decisions, so don’t let them.

Surround yourself with strong people. Spending time with friends who resist peer pressure or avoid alcohol altogether increases your likelihood of doing the same. This positive influence may be helpful.

If you or someone you know has developed an alcohol addiction, alcohol rehab could help.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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