Mental Health

What Is Peer Pressure and Does It Lead to Addiction?

We know teens and adults alike are at a greater risk of developing an addiction if drug use begins in early adolescence. But why do children and teens use drugs, to begin with? A common reason given is peer pressure, but the role of peer pressure in the development of addiction is often overstated or misunderstood. The development of addiction in youth is more complex than one factor.

To point to peer pressure alone as a major cause of addiction in teens and young adults ignores a large host of other issues. While most forms of drug use have seen a decline among teens in recent years, some substances have grown increasingly popular, including marijuana and tobacco (via vaping), signaling it’s still important for parents to educate themselves on the effects of drug use, as well as hinting at a continued need to better understand how and why kids get addicted to drugs.

Defining Peer Pressure

Human behavior, as complex as it is, can be boiled down to the product of internal and external factors. These range from innate factors playing a role in the development of our personalities and the emotions we display, to the countless ways in which our experiences and the actions of others imprint on us.

Peer pressure is one of many external factors that have an impact on how we think and act. Peer pressure can refer to both positive and negative influences; negative influences lead to the development of destructive and maladaptive behaviors, while positive influences lead to productive and healthy behaviors.

Peer pressure, or peer influence, only accounts for the influence our social group might hold over us. Peer pressure represents a greater influence among teens than adults, as teens are more motivated to conform to their friends and peers, and less likely to heed the risks associated with potentially dangerous activities, including recreational drug use.

However, research on the topic is conflicting. Studies aiming to determine the effect of peer influence on substance abuse and addiction find different results across sample sizes and age groups, ranging from no support for peer pressure as a significant factor in the development of substance abuse to peer pressure being just one among a variety of social factors for teens using drugs.

Older children, especially teens, are less likely to try drugs due to peer pressure and more likely to choose to use drugs out of their own volition, to satisfy boredom or curiosity, and may select their peers accordingly. A teen’s peer choices play a role in how their personality develops, and what actions they take when faced with the choice to accept or decline drugs. But attention should be paid more to a teen’s home environment and other factors as well.

Parental Influence and Protective Factors

While teens and children spend a lot of time among their peers, family remains a more influential factor in the development of substance use habits. Parents and the quality of their relationship with their children are a greater influence on youth, and teens who are influenced more by their peers than their parents were more likely to use drugs regularly.

Furthermore, among adults with a history of drug use, poor parental relationships, unhappy childhoods, harsh physical punishment, and lack of parental concern are common factors. Healthy parental relationships, on the other hand, correlated with better outcomes and were found to be a significant factor, particularly if parents displayed several effective parenting strategies including:

    • Parental monitoring
    • Parental modeling
    • Parental support
    • Good communication
    • Parental involvement
    • Parent-child relationship quality

This does not mean parents play a greater role in their child’s behavior than their peers do in every single case. In most cases, both play a significant role and may influence a teen’s decision to try drugs or avoid them. Parental disapproval of drug use and peer selection also represents as protective factors, and it’s important to note peer pressure is not always overt, but may be subtle, i.e. teens are more likely to respond to trying a drug out if they see everyone else doing it but aren’t pressured into doing so directly.

Other Factors Are Just as Important

Peer and parental influences only represent a fraction of the factors contributing to drug use. Other important external factors remain just as important, including:

Internal factors include co-occurring mental health conditions, a genetic predisposition towards a specific substance (as teens are more sensitive to a drug if they have a family history of addiction to said drug), and more. The treatment of addiction often requires a thorough understanding of the factors that influenced and continue to impact an individual’s history of drug use.

While drugs themselves encourage repeated use, certain factors make someone more or less likely to relapse after treatment or continue to struggle with addiction. Support networks and treatment plans must be selected and built individually based on these factors as well, as teens affected by certain factors are more likely to respond to one treatment plan than another.

Some of the things parents can do to help reduce their teen’s risk of using drugs include:

    • Addressing the topic of drugs with a nuanced, balanced, and information-rich approach, avoiding fearmongering or outdated terminology.
    • Encouraging your child to call you and ask for a ride home (judgment-free) if they ever find themselves pressured to use drugs at an event.
    • Staying involved in a teen’s life, showing interest for their school and personal activities, relationships with peers, friendships, career interests, and more.
    • Providing a warm and supportive environment at home, alongside discipline and accountability.

While peer pressure can play a role in how teens develop drug habits, it is far from the only factor, and may often not be the most significant factor in many cases.

Mental Health Substance Abuse

How Does Social Media Influence Teen Drug Use?

The average teenager spends nearly eight hours a day on a phone or computer. This is more time than spent daily in a classroom, and often more time than is spent sleeping. Much of this time is spent interacting with others through social media.

Social media refers to internet sites and applications which allow for information to be shared rapidly, and with a wide audience. Popular social media sites with teens include Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. There is also much information that is shared through video posts on Youtube, where the concept of the internet influencer was born.

As with most other things, the advancement of social media has both positive and negative consequences for our youth. For the teen who is susceptible to mental health disorder and is looking to the online peer group for direction, the messages portrayed within social media may prove to be a destructive mix.

The Role of Peer Influence on Teen Drug Use and Decision-Making Skills

Teenagers are particularly susceptible to the suggestions provided by those who are admired, popular, or trending. The teen years are a period of time when children make their greatest strides toward adulthood. As part of this journey, there is a tendency for the influence of parents to decrease, and the importance of peer opinion to increase.

As much as it might tear at a parent’s heartstrings, the substitution of parental guidance by peer suggestion is a normal, healthy, part of maturation. Breaking away from parents in order to form an identity as an independent adult is an important stage toward establishing a successful life. A parent’s best hope during this time is that the decisions made by their fledgling adult will be healthy ones.

For most people, peer friendships are formed based on what the individuals have in common. Common interests and perspectives can provide a starting point for forming more concrete bonds. In modern times, these friendships are often formed virtually. The numerous social media sites that are available means that a teen is never far off from finding a social group by which to receive support in exploring his or her individuality and interconnectedness.

Shared interest in healthy or neutral things – such as fashion, video games, sports, art, computers, and the like – can provide a teen with a social group by which he or she can be encouraged to progress in personal interests and future goals. When the shared interest in in unhealthy activities, however, a teen can be encouraged to progress along a destructive path.

In a quest to be an independent adult, such a teen is prone to view the rebellious behaviors of peers as part of the quest for liberation from parental restraint. A teen with a peer group who promotes substance abuse is continually exposed to temptation to engage in similar behaviors.

Establishment of Cultural Norms

While the United States has overarching cultural standards which guide the behaviors of the majority, there are also subcultures within it. Factors such as academic and personal interests, sexual orientation, political ideology, and race can all play a role in which social subgroup a person is drawn to. Age is also a factor in determining a subculture, with both older and younger people tending to identify with the ideals of their particular generation.

Just as the ideas of Hollywood and marketing influenced the first generation to have a television in their homes, social media influences the generation of today. However, while the content of television was controlled by a small group of people, social media outlets know no such bounds. Any person with charisma, an idea, and access to technology can gain a devoted following.

As implied by the term, “influencer,” there are certain internet personalities who hold a large amount of sway over their fanbase. Popular internet influencers are rewarded with endorsement contracts, as businesses recognize their ability to market and promote new ideas and products. If an influencer recommends it, their fans are likely to try it out.

Many of the popular trend setters are well aware of the malleable state of identity that a teenager is operating in. If the ideas of the influencer are implanted early enough, these ideas can become a solidified part of the teen’s adult perspectives. Once these ideas have been internalized by a large enough group of young people, a new cultural norm is established. Any older person who has uttered the phrase “back in my day” is already aware of how these norms can shift.

Some of the notable shifts in teen culture which have been promoted through social media are positive ones. Teens are encouraged to practice tolerance and acceptance for various social groups, and are encouraged to think about the world on a global scale. On the other end of the spectrum, ideas such as excessive drinking and daily use of marijuana have also been integrated. The concepts of tolerance include acceptance of substance use as a normal behavior.

Social Media Influence on Teen Drug Use and Mental Health

Direct influence from social media in regards to promoting teen drug use is worrisome enough. When the suggestion to engage in teen drug use or alcohol use is presented to someone in a state of poor mental health, the effect can be exponential. Researchers have long determined that those with existing mental health disorders are more at risk of teen drug use and abuse. In the mental health field, this connection is known as co-occurring disorder and self-medication.

There are some studies which have suggested that excessive social media use is a key factor in the development of mental health disorder. Increases in depression, anxiety, low self esteem have all been linked to the self conception that a teenager conceives from the messages delivered within social media. The temptation to compare oneself to others and to react to public opinion is present within all human beings.

For teenagers, it is doubly so. Their developing personas will be busy integrating the delivered information into a cohesive mental conception of themselves, and of the young adult world.

Adolescence Education Parenting Recovery

Teens Are Going Back to School

School is back in session! This means that the unstructured schedule of summer has ended and the wild teen energy requires a shift toward focus and effort.


It’s tough because you go from a veritable free-for-all (Summer) to a highly focused environment where there are higher expectations, firmer schedules, and of course, the dreaded homework. Kids who spent the summer in camp may have had some structure, but the truth is, it’s nowhere near as rigid as school. Bedtime has been later and waking up took on a leisurely state. School starting is a definite shift.


The positives about returning to school, according to one anonymous teen are, “You get to see your friends again and you get to learn.” In middle school and high school, friends hold a lot of power over each other. Often more important than classroom connection is the forming of social groups outside of class: in the halls, on the yard, et cetera. This is where the real influence, be it negative or positive occurs, and for kids more akin to following than leading, this can represent a shift toward bad decision making. Conversely, a child who is processing a lot of personal conflict (eg, family) may be drawn to kids who are acting out or whose behavior is outside of the norm. On the contrary, some kids are extremely skilled at creating the equivalent of work/life balance, both in maintaining good grades and in having a healthy social life.


Socialization can be tough, especially in adolescence. I often refer to teens as messy, and I say that because their emotional and physical terrain is rapidly changing and unpredictable. Even a kid with little to no conflict is still going to experience the messiness of adolescence. I find that one of the biggest things these kids need is validation: a confirmation that what they are going through is normal. I keenly remember how rough adolescence was. It was downright confusing and miserable at times. And at others, it was pure, unadulterated excitement! I remember thinking some kids “had it made” because they had all of the “stuff” I thought I needed, but later finding out they were suffering as much as I was.


Some teens can’t stop the summer fun, though. They want to carry on with late-night shenanigans far into September and October. It’s true: we do see an increase in clients during that time. Don’t wait until the first bad report card to do something; pay attention from day one to the way in which your teen is acclimating. Are they struggling? Is getting back to the “grind” harder than usual? Maintain an open, transparent place to have discussions with your teen.


  • Listen: Sometimes teens (and kids in general) just want to vent without receiving advice. “I hear how frustrating that is” or “That sounds difficult” can go a long way. Kids are actually skilled at coming to a healthy solution on their own if we allow them the opportunity.


  • Be present: Create a technology free period where you are together as a family and be willing to participate in each other’s lives.


  • Don’t take it personally:  Teens love to push buttons. If you can let the small stuff roll off your back, do. An eye roll can be ignored. Choose your battles.



Lastly, encourage your teen to avoid and/or ignore the kids whose choices are questionable, and to choose friends who are dedicated to their education and making positive choices.  Our teens look to us as parents to be their guide. We are their first teachers. If our attitudes about school and learning are positive and healthy, they will inadvertently adopt them (most of the time). If our attitudes about learning and school are mercurial, then guess what, our kids will adopt that same, fickle attitude toward learning.




“If you want your children to improve, then let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” Dr. Haim Ginott














Adolescence Recovery

Risk-Taking Behaviors Hardwired in Adolescence

(Photo credit: JohnONolan)

In a recent study from Temple University, psychologists Laurence Steinberg and Jason Chein, CLA ’97 discovered that teens are more likely exhibit risk-taking behaviors with friends around but not for the reasons we typically think! In fact, these researchers took their study away from humans and researched the behaviors of mice. Their findings challenge the assumption that “most people attribute the peer effect on adolescent risk-taking to peer pressure or the desire to impress friends.”


Steinberg and Chein raised several mice in same-sex triads and monitored their alcohol consumption as teens and as adults—half of them were tested alone and the other half were tested with their “peer mates.” The researchers found that the adolescent mice drank more alcohol when their peers were present than the adult mice.  Steinberg says,


“The outcome of this study, in combination with our other recent findings involving human teens, indicates that the peer influence on reward sensitivity during late adolescence is not just a matter of peer pressure or bravado or in any way dependent on familiarity with the observer. Because adolescents find socializing so rewarding, we postulate that being with friends primes the reward system and makes teens pay more attention to the potential payoffs of risky decisions.”


In 2011, Steinberg and Chein did a similar study, researching the brain activity in teens, young adults, and adults as they made decisions during a simulated driving game. They determined a similar result: adolescents took more risks when they knew their peers were watching them.  In another study by Steinberg and Chein, they delved further into their theory and found that familiarity doesn’t play a part in this behavior. Teens typically take more risks when they are surrounded by their peers.  Laurence Steinberg suggests, “Adolescents’ reward-seeking behavior may in fact be a hardwired, evolutionarily-conserved process.”


Teens like to take risks. It’s in their nature and part of their developmental process. The persistent swagger, braggadocio, and desire for autonomy are par for the course. Parental awareness is key: we can accept some of it and laugh it off, but the dangerous actions and risk-taking behaviors need to be addressed. We can certainly teach accountability, even to a risk-taking teen.


Temple University. (2013, December 9). “The presence of peers affects adolescents’ reward-seeking behavior.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Logue, S., Chein, J., Gould, T., Holliday, E. and Steinberg, L. (2013), Adolescent mice, unlike adults, consume more alcohol in the presence of peers than alone. Developmental Science. doi: 10.1111/desc.12101

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