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Fact Sheet

Managing pressure to use drugs or alcohol


ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

Photo by: Chris Becker

You might be feeling pressure from your friends, other people, or society as a whole through movies, music or advertising to use drugs or drink alcohol. Saying no to drugs and alcohol when people around you are using them can be tough. But sometimes the easiest way to fight pressure is to be honest and simply say no. By making excuses, you can create an opportunity for others to try and convince you or add pressure.

How peer pressure can affect drug and alcohol use

Peer pressure is the feeling of being influenced to do something you wouldn’t usually do because your peers are doing it. A peer can be anyone you look up to, or someone who is an equal in age or ability. A peer could be a friend, someone in the community or even someone on TV. Check out the Peer pressure fact sheet.

Peer pressure can be a major factor influencing your decision to use drugs and drink alcohol. It can be a negative influence when it causes you to act in ways that don’t mesh with your sense of right and wrong. For example, you may not feel like using drugs or drinking, but you might use anyway because you feel pressured by friends. On the other hand, peer pressure can also be a positive influence when it helps to challenge or motivate you to do your best. For example, if your friends notice that your drug use or drinking habits are negatively affecting your life, they might pressure you to stop or encourage you to talk to someone like a doctor or counselor about your habit.

Here are some of the ways that peer pressure might affect you:

Directly. Peer pressure can come at you directly when someone tells you to use drugs or drink to fit in with the crowd. This can be awkward and uncomfortable. If you’re being pressured to take drugs or drink when you don’t want to, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust about how to handle this kind of pressure. If you aren’t comfortable doing this in person or want to talk with a person who is not part of your immediate circle of family and friends, try reaching out to someone though a helpline like the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000

Indirectly. Peer pressure might not always be direct or obvious to you. It isn’t uncommon for a group of friends to have particular habits or activities that they do together, and this can include drinking or using drugs. If you’re uncomfortable with your friends’ habits, it might be a good idea to explore other groups of people to hang out with or tell your friends you don’t want to do those things with them. If they are your friends, they will understand.

You might also feel indirect pressure if you’re to a new area or starting at a new school, college or job and want to make new friends or feel less anxious in new social situations. It is possible to do this without using drugs and alcohol, though. For more info, check out the Meeting new people fact sheet.

What can you do about it?

Part of being your own person means making decisions based on what is best for you, taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think-but this doesn’t mean that you can’t be a valuable part of a group. Here are some suggestions that might help you manage peer pressure to take drugs or drink.

Value common interests. You can avoid situations where you feel negative peer pressure by hanging out with people who share your interests. Or, you might try to suggest that your group try new, drug- and alcohol-free activities, like playing soccer or going to a concert. Although it might be tempting to hang out in the “cool crowd,” remember that the best crowd for you is the one in which you feel comfortable, and hanging out in the cool crowd may not be as much fun as it seems.

Say “no”. Having the courage to say “no” can be tough, but, it can also feel great to stick with what you believe in. By calmly explaining to people why you don’t want to use drugs or drink, you may earn respect from others. For more info on how to be assertive and stand up for yourself, check out the Effective communication and the Effective communication: getting your message across fact sheets.


Last reviewed: May 9, 2012

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