Humans are social animals, for better and for worse. While we’d like to think that our behavior is largely dictated by our own wants and desires, the truth is often much more complex, and far less in favor of self-determinism – much of what we do is pre-programmed, especially when it involves groups.
Whenever we’re with friends, we’re much more likely to fall prey to ‘groupthink’, and that reflects not only on our thoughts, but on our actions and behavior as well.
However, all that isn’t set in stone. By being aware of how others can influence our actions, we can take charge and avoid the common trap of peer pressure.
There’s a reason it’s heavily recommended to surround yourself with other sober people when investing in sobriety. We’re more likely to stick to our ideals and principles when we’re not alone in defending them and being part of a group of sober people struggling to stay clean and work through recovery allows us to take solace in the fact that we’re not fighting against addiction alone.
But when we’re surrounded by drinking, staying sober can be a serious challenge. Nevertheless, there are ways to overcome peer pressure and remain true to your principles.
Why is Peer Pressure so Effective?
Peer pressure affects individuals at all ages. Kids and teens are most at risk of falling prey to peer pressure, as we will examine later, but even adults can find themselves unwittingly doing or thinking things they might not have done or thought alone or in a different group.
To understand peer pressure, reformulate it first as influence. Individuals can influence other individuals, just as groups influence groups. Influence is inescapable, and it rears its head in our fashion choices, music tastes, beauty standards, and even our partner choices.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the opinions of others hold sway over our own thoughts and choices.
And this begins in the earliest years of social behavior, when children first begin to interact with one another and define what is alright and not alright. A simple example would be how peer pressure can affect a child’s self-esteem and appearance.
An outfit a child might have picked themselves would never be picked again due to experiences with bullying and ridicule. This has long-term ramifications, affecting how the child dresses and views themselves.
In adults, the pressure to conform in certain ways might express itself in brand choices, the choice to lose weight, avoid certain speech patterns, or otherwise make changes in order to avoid ridicule or to avoid being conspicuous.
As an antidote to that, it’s only an individual’s own confidence levels that determine how far they are able to resist peer pressure and remain confident in the validity of their own thoughts and choices.
In addiction, peer pressure and influence is extremely potent because it’s so easy to erode confidence in one’s own sobriety. This is because the nature of addiction itself makes it difficult to stay clean.
For the first few months, your own brain continues to crave a drink, and it feels as though you have to continuously wrestle with your own thoughts to remain sober. Add onto that the feeling that refusing to drink causes you to go heavily against the grain and draw criticism, and it becomes very difficult to say no under certain circumstances.
Teens Have a Harder Time with Peer Pressure
While peer pressure affects adults as well, it’s far more pronounced in teens. Teens generally lack the self-confidence that comes with adulthood, and they lack self-determination on account of not quite being sure who they are. Teens define themselves not on account of their own choices and individual characteristics, but on account of how others see them, and where they happen to fit in.
As such, many teens are desperate to fit in in any way possible, even if it means doing something questionable for the respect and approval of others. The pursuit of status is far stronger in teens than other age groups – and that’s embedded in the teen brain itself.
This is because while adults are inhibited by a fully-developed brain with the ability to easily recognize and calculate risk – as well as a treasure trove of negative experiences from which to draw a reasonable expectation of consequence – teens are more likely to do something without really thinking about how it might affect them in the long-term.
In other words, teens not only ignore risk, but often don’t even recognize that it exists in the heat of the moment – especially if the reward (status) is very appealing. That is why experimenting with drugs is more common among teens than adults – they’re less likely to worry about drug tests at work, drug use reflecting poorly on their record, getting caught with illicit drugs, or incurring the wrath of their parents.
Teens who have given up drugs and drinking thus have a lot of work cut out for them. To truly avoid peer pressure, they must become confident in their choice to stay clean, which takes both a lot of willpower and a lot of time spent among other sober people.
Why Are People Bothered by Sobriety?
In some cases, refusing to grab a drink can incur a negative reaction. If you’ve ever told a friend you’re not drinking, you might have noticed that, rather than being accepting or indifferent, they might become defensive instead, ridiculing you for your choice to stay sober.
While this isn’t a given, some people are far more sensitive about being told no than others. In part, this is because refusing to give into peer pressure around drinking may, in fact, reflect poorly on the choices others have made on the topic of their own drinking habits. Negative reactions to non-drinkers are not uncommon, as research shows it happens cross-culturally and has more to do with unwittingly forcing others to confront their own choices rather than any specific cultural influence.
Learn to Say No
The key to avoiding the effects of peer pressure is to either avoid being asked about your drinking, or simply being confident in your ability to refuse a drink.
Don’t go to social gatherings sure to involve alcohol if you aren’t confident that you can say no. Have a plan to always have a non-alcoholic drink in hand.
Go with a sober friend, so you’re sure to have someone to bail you out if things get awkward. And, sometimes, just saying no can do the trick.