It’s natural for people to identify with or compare themselves to their peers. Peer pressure is a force that nearly everyone has faced at some point. Through growth and a renewed sense of independence, young adults tend to question how they want to be and where they fit in among a social crowd. Peer pressure can sway decisions and outlooks, particularly in adolescents whose minds are still developing. While there are both positive and negative qualities of peer pressure, it’s essential to know how to handle social stress. Below find tips on how to deal with peer pressure and avoid making tough decisions that may trigger adverse outcomes.
Dealing with peer pressure is a skill set developed over time. We are constantly influenced by the very people we consider friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. To some degree, even strangers can have an impact on our actions or opinions. Defining a game plan for difficult social interactions may help alleviate some of the stress associated with peer pressure.
Psychology of Peer Pressure
There are various types of peer pressure – both good and bad. While the science of the mind is incredibly complex, one thing is certain: we are hardwired to place more value on how we interact within a social setting than when we are alone.
A study conducted by the University of Southern California found that reward often outweighs risk when among a group of peers. Thus, our mind may seek ways to gain peer support, even if those actions fail to align with our morals or values.
As a result of this built-in reward pathway, individuals may feel coerced into taking risky actions that they would otherwise avoid. However, science is discovering that there may be more at play within the brain that exposes us to specific influences. Knowing how to deal with peer pressure, experts say, comes with time and development.
The Brain & Peer Pressure
One of the most common questions about peer pressure is, why does it impact adolescents more easily? Science has an explanation. According to a leading psychologist at Temple University – Dr. Laurence Steinberg – the brain begins changing shortly after puberty. During these changes, certain influential triggers may be more persistent. The good news is that, over time, we learn how to deal with peer pressure on our own. But what are the shifts happening in the brain, and what can it do to answer how we deal with peer pressure?
One of the most significant shifts in the brain in young adults is its awareness and attentiveness to outside opinions. While this development may appear to be faulty on the surface, it can serve a person well in favorable situations. For one, it provides social cues that inform someone how to act or speak. It calls attention to the adage: strength in numbers, where the idea is that being part of something larger offers protection and support.
In addition, the prefrontal cortex – a critical component of decision-making – is still developing from ages 12 to around 17. A neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College observed that in adolescents, the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex could not perceive threats as usual when around peers, which can send it into reward-seeking behavior. This interaction can trigger risky choices like drinking underage, using drugs, or participating in criminal activity. Alternatively, in a positive light, peer pressure can help drive individuals to make choices that are beneficial in team settings or simply fulfilling good acts like volunteering or helping a friend.
Learning How to Deal with Peer Pressure
As we enter into adulthood, we may still occasionally be driven by reward-seeking behavior. However, the brain’s limbic system is now more capable of factoring in reasoning such as possible consequences, safety, and general well-being. In addition to brain development, individuals are also more capable of dealing with peer pressure with specific strategies and tactics.
Unfortunately, peer pressure is difficult to avoid. There will always be outside influences that motivate us to choose certain paths. What’s important is that we consider positive versus negative factors. Here are some tips on how to deal with peer pressure at any age:
1. Weigh your emotions in the decisions you make
The way we feel at any given moment is essential. When pressure is high, and we’re feeling particularly vulnerable, we may decide on the easy choice. However, the end result can be catastrophic. Understanding how you feel and acknowledging negative emotions can help steer a person away from making poor choices. Avoid peers that can cause self-doubt, lack of self-confidence, and who may disregard your feelings completely.
2. Find positive influences
At any age, it’s a great idea to stay involved with extracurricular activities like sports, music, art, or other hobbies. Team building activities can help increase self-confidence and create a support system that allows an individual to flourish. Additionally, enjoying hobbies and other harmless pastimes like exercising can release feel-good hormones such as:
- Dopamine – pleasure, motivation, brain reward’s system
- Endorphins – pain relief, relaxation
- Serotonin – mood stabilizer, happiness, wellbeing
- Oxytocin – bonding, love, trust
Atlas Bio Med notes that these hormones can help alleviate anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions when produced naturally without alcohol or drugs.
3. Plan ahead
Experiencing peer pressure, especially when in a hostile environment, can cause a person to panic. To mitigate the risk of impulsive decision making when under pressure, it’s best to have a plan that can help map out a response. Think of different scenarios that spark discomfort and think about how to deal with peer pressure. What is a good response? Are there alternative methods of saying no? It’s ok to give excuses to avoid making decisions that you may feel are not right for you.
4. Convey Feelings and Emotions
Honesty goes a long way in reducing the harmful effects of peer pressure. Speak to the person or group of people who may be causing feelings of unease or uncertainty. Explain why their actions are impactful and kindly ask them to stop. It’s okay to distance yourself from people and groups that are not serving you in a positive aspect.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Find New Groups
The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) nonprofit website, Wonderopolis, expresses the importance of good peers. An article they published states that good friends should be loyal and accepting of who you are. Unfortunately, not everyone is a good friend, nor does everyone have good intentions. Consider who your friends are and if they’re truly capable of helping to inspire growth and good deeds.
For parents, you must speak with your children about the harm that can come with groups of friends that have bad intentions. Provide support to your kids and ask questions about how they’re feeling with the group they interact with regularly.
6. Talk to a Trusted Resource
Positive influences, usually parents or siblings, can teach you how to deal with peer pressure directly. Having a trusted friend, family member, or another resource to call on can alleviate some of the everyday life stresses. They can be there to give advice or just support the decisions you’ve made that you feel are right for you. Facing peer pressure alone can be isolating and overwhelming. Creating a group that you can turn to can make a world of difference when dealing with peer pressure.
Peer Pressure & Drugs
Positive peer pressure will almost always push a person to discover their capabilities and strengths. On the other hand, negative peer pressure can lead to habits that are both cyclical and damaging. Alcohol and drugs, for example, are usually used in group settings.
Early drug abuse often includes tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana, and prescription drugs such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows that abuse of drugs in late childhood and early adolescence is associated with long-term drug involvement. Avoiding substance abuse as young adults is paramount to preventing detrimental habits later in life.
Moreover, it’s important to note that some drugs are extremely potent and toxic. One-time use of such drugs may cascade into addiction more quickly. Learning how to say no will be an important life skill. This is applicable, especially when learning how to deal with peer pressure. Dangerous substances can wreak havoc on mental health and wellness. It’s imperative that a person intervenes when drugs become problematic.
AspenRidge Recovery offers ongoing support to individuals facing substance abuse. Peer pressure influences are notorious for triggering the dangerous use of alcohol and drugs. Peer pressure is a genuine concern for millions of Americans. It can lead to poor decisions and impact relaxation and sleep, among other things. If you or someone you love is facing negative peer pressure and are using substances habitually, it may be time to seek outside help.
Our Colorado addiction care centers offer support for those facing substance dependency. Our certified clinicians have experience addressing all symptoms within the spectrum of addiction. Programs include:
- Day Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- AspenRidge REACH Online IOP
- IOP for Professionals and Working Adults
- Outpatient Program
- Alumni & Aftercare Program
Contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-281-5588 to speak to staff about various programs and treatment methods for alcohol, drug, and other co-occurring disorders.