Peer pressure is often cited as one of the things motivating young people to use drugs. It’s just assumed that a young person who has never consumed alcohol or taking drugs will automatically feel pressure to do so when put in the midst of others his or her age already behaving in that way. There is some truth to this belief, but research suggests peer pressure may not be as prevalent as we think it to be. As a student, what are your thoughts?

According to the Drug Scope charity, there are a number of reasons kids start taking drugs that are more prevalent than peer pressure. Those reasons are:

  • personal enjoyment
  • negative surroundings
  • individual curiosity
  • natural rebellion
  • as a coping mechanism
  • easy availability
  • strong marketing and low price. 

Drug Scope acknowledges that peer pressure can be part of the equation, but it insists most people using drugs do so because they have made a decision that they want to – regardless of what anyone else around them thinks. It also insists there is equal peer pressure to stay away from drugs or alcohol, yet some still decide to engage.

Self-Inflicted Pressure

WebMD’s Joanne Barker believes that the peer pressure felt by some kids is internal rather external. She references comments from SADD senior advisor for policy, research, and education Stephen Wallace. Mr Wallace has been quoted as saying his organisation’s research indicates that a young person’s perception of peer pressure can be a lot greater than any pressure that actually exists.

For example, Wallace believes that there is a lot less drug and alcohol use among teens than the kids themselves perceive. Moreover, because some young people think drinking and drugs are more prevalent than they are, they put pressure on themselves to do what they think everyone else is doing – even if their own observations do not match up with their perceptions. This is a self-inflicted peer pressure.

Barker concedes that some studies show kids are up to six times more likely to drink if their friends also drink. However, such a casual link does not prove peer pressure. If anything, it suggests the idea of the mob mentality. Nevertheless, most mob actions are motivated by emotions of excitement rather than any kind of pressure.

Parents Number One Influence

Tom Hendrick, of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, maintains that parents have a lot more influence than they realise. In fact, they can be the number one influence in the lives of their children if they make the effort. How parents choose to exercise their influence largely determines the direction kids will take with drink and drugs.

WebMD expands on Hendrick’s thoughts by providing parents with a list of suggestions to positively influence their children. We will not go through all of the suggestions here, but they all boil down to the core principle of setting and maintaining standards that both parents and children abide by. Parents need to set the example for their kids, and then follow through to make sure kids adopt the same principles and standards.

Research does seem to suggest that peer pressure is not as big a factor in teen drug use as it has been made out to be. Rather, individual misconceptions and a lack of positive parental influence are bigger factors in determining whether a young person will embrace drug use or not.

Addiction Helper is here to come alongside you if you are involved in drug use. Please call our 24-hour helpline for free advice, substance abuse evaluations, and treatment referrals. Inform yourself about students and addiction problems from our student addiction guide.


  1. Drugwise
  2. Web MD 
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