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Peer Pressure and Drugs: What Parents Need to Know

The desire to be accepted, wanted, and fit in is a natural and basic human instinct. However, it can be a little too intense for teenagers as they are especially vulnerable during this time in their lives due to a general lack of self-esteem. This is where peer pressure comes in. It’s choosing to do things you wouldn’t otherwise think of doing in order to gain the approval of your peers.

Types of Peer Pressure 

Peer pressure isn’t inherently bad. Depending on the type of friends your teenager surrounds themselves with, peer pressure can be both healthy and unhealthy.

  • Positive Peer Pressure – In good company, your child can be motivated and steered in the right direction. Some positive peer pressure examples may be that your child has suddenly become interested in getting good grades like his/her friends, playing a new sport, watching a popular television series, or joining a school club. 
  • Negative Peer Pressure – On the contrary, it also has its dark side. Peers can make it seem cool to shoplift, cut classes, smoke, drink alcohol, or have unprotected sex. Studies also suggest a strong correlation between peer pressure and drugs, which, when left unaddressed, can lead to addiction.

Group of friends enjoying the outdoors

The Power of Peer Pressure on Drug Use 

In a 2003 review, researchers have found that peers have a significantly higher influence on teenage substance abuse than their parents. Due to their young age, teenagers can be impressionable and easily swayed by their friends to experiment with illicit drugs, teasing them or bullying them should they refuse. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), teenagers consider both the risks and rewards of their choices and behaviours. On the contrary, unlike adults, they are more likely to disregard the potential consequences in favour of the reward. 

This was powerfully illustrated by a NIDA-funded study where teenagers who were driving with their peers in the car displayed a higher likelihood of taking risks, such as speeding through yellow lights, than adult participants. During the experiment, the friends did not say anything to coerce or influence the drivers’ behaviours. 

Based on these key findings, functional magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated that the friends’ presence heightened activity in the teens’ ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex—brain regions that predict and assess reward value. Hence, researchers concluded that their peers’ mere presence is enough to make the risks worth it for the teens. 

 Teenagers playing video games while drinking

Teenage Drug Use in Canada

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), which has been conducted every two years since 1977, is the longest-running school survey of adolescents in Canada and one of the longest-running in the world. 

Based on the OSDUHS 2009 report results:

  • Approximately 42% (409,700 Ontario students) report using at least one illicit drug in the past year.
  • The most popular substances used by teens in Ontario are alcohol (58%), marijuana (25%), prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, Percocet, Percodan, Demerol, or Tylenol (17%), and tobacco (11.7%).

On the other hand, key findings from the 2019 OSDUHS report, which surveyed 14,142 students in Grades 7 to 12, reveals that:

  • About 1 in 5 students (22%) reported using marijuana in the past year.
  • Among high school students, consuming cannabis edibles significantly increased from 11% in 2017 to 14% in 2019.
  • At least 1 in 7 (15%) high school students showed symptoms of drug use problems.
  • Only 0.7% reported receiving adequate treatment for their substance use and drug addiction.

How to Help Your Teen Handle Peer Pressure

No matter how you raise your teen, chances are, they will inevitably encounter peer pressure in one way or another. Nevertheless, as a parent or guardian, you also have a strong influence over your child’s decision-making.

Rather than wear yourself out by worrying about your teenager succumbing to peer pressure and drug abuse, it’s better to focus your energy on creating a safe, supportive, and loving relationship and teaching them healthy coping strategies to identify and steer clear from negative peer pressure. 

A father talking to his son about peer pressure

Here are some tips on how to deal with peer pressure related to drugs:

1. Make a conscious effort to build your child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Even kids who seemed confident during childhood may find themselves struggling with insecurity and self-doubt in their teenage years. As a parent, it is crucial that you model confidence, encourage self-improvement, and use kind and supportive language when communicating at home. Teens who are self-assured and have a sense of self-worth can stand for themselves and resist peer pressure.

2. Be your child’s ally by staying connected.

Maintain an open communication line with your teenager at all times. Be an active listener. Avoid being too critical or judgmental to encourage them to talk to you if anything or anyone is bothering them in school or if their friends are using peer pressure to sway them to try drugs. Always speak in a calm and controlled manner and assure your teen that as a parent, you are coming from a place of love and concern.

3. Educate your teen about strategies to say no.

Your teen may find themselves in awkward situations where refusing would make them look uncool or feel embarrassed. Anticipate and prep for instances of peer pressure and drug or alcohol encounters. For example, when pressured to smoke cigarettes or weed, they can make a smooth excuse, such as, “I can’t because it makes my asthma worse,” or, “It makes me sick,” or, “My parents are going to pick me up in a few minutes.”

Furthermore, set up an emergency exit strategy for situations where your teen feels unsafe or uncomfortable and wants a way out as soon as possible. Some parents share a coded message with their teens. For instance, your teen can text you that he needs to “pick something up at the grocery store with you,” but it means he needs you to pick him up quickly. 

If this happens, it’s crucial that you first focus on your child’s positive move to seek your help rather than lecturing or questioning how they got in that messy situation. In the future, they might think twice about asking for help when they know you’re going to get mad.  

4. Let your child have a wide network of friends.

Aside from school, encourage your child to build meaningful friendships from other available sources like in your church, sports clubs, youth groups, same-aged relatives or teens in your neighbourhood. Having a wide circle of friends means they can get a strong support network and won’t be obsessed with fitting in with just one clique. 

5. Focus on the bad behaviour, not the person.

If your teen gives in to peer pressure and experiments with drugs, know that this doesn’t make him or her inherently a bad person or a failure. Aside from peer pressure, there are a lot of contributing factors that are associated with substance use. Take a proactive approach towards treatment and prevention by seeking professional help immediately. 

Does Your Teen Need Help?

If you believe that your teenager is suffering from drug addiction due to peer pressure, we can help you. Freedom From Addiction is a leading addiction recovery home near Toronto. 

We have a team of healthcare professionals, ranging from psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and addiction specialists, among others, who have years of experience dealing with substance use and drug addiction in teenagers. 

To learn more about peer pressure and drug use or to inquire about our Drug Addiction Treatment for Teenagers, please contact us today.


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