There may be nothing more uncomfortable for adolescents and teenagers than feeling like they don’t fit in. For many, these emotions linger and stay with them throughout their adult lives. Sometimes they want so desperately to belong to a group of peers that they’ll go against their better judgement and make choices that are not in their best interest, such as engaging in substance abuse.The average age at which a child first uses marijuana is just 14. Alcohol use often comes early too, with 62 percent reporting their first drink by the age of 15 in one study. Teens are easily influenced by peers, because they’re far more likely to believe the reward – being accepted by one’s peers – outweighs the risks than an adult weighing the same factors. One survey touts only a mere 10 percent of youths report never having been influenced by peer pressure. Sometimes peer pressure comes in the form of direct encouragement to try alcohol or an illicit substance but not always. In many cases, the youth perceives this pressure simply by being the odd one out in a crowd of substance-abusing peers. This goes back to the importance of fitting in among youths.
Peer pressure has grown leaps and bounds, too; it is far beyond urging a friend to share a cigarette behind the building after school. Social media plays a big part in peer pressure and substance abuse today. In one survey of 12-17 year old youths, 75 percent claimed online images of partying teens using drugs or drinking make them want to do the same. Furthermore, nearly 11 million of these teens report seeing images like these on the Internet, and 47 percent of them think the adolescents pictured look like they’re having fun.
All Friends Are Not Created EqualBelonging to a peer group is believed to be more beneficial than not belonging to one though. Substance abuse rates are higher among youths who are isolated from peers or family members. Per a study conducted by CASAColumbia, teens who regularly partake in family dinners are less likely to try drugs than those who have fewer regular family dinners. There comes a time in nearly every adolescent’s life when their peers will seem superior and of more importance to them than their family — especially when it comes to their opinions. The average teenager goes through a myriad of life lessons and hormonal upsets during their adolescent years, and there are plenty of times when they will gauge their self-perception from what peers think of them. Children want to feel like they belong, and they want to be accepted by their peers. One 2007 study notes 65 percent of teenagers surveyed believed drug use would help them establish a cool reputation among their peers.
When to WorryUnfortunately, the adolescent years leave room for a lack of good judgement at times, and your child could easily step off the path you’ve carefully guided them along all these years. Those with straight and narrow friends holding their hands when you aren’t around are far less likely to make poor decisions. Adolescents want these kinds of friend in their corner — the ones who will talk them out of something stupid before they do it or make them feel like they aren’t the only one who doesn’t want to try that cigarette. Nearly every adolescent is going to be confronted with the choice to engage in substance abuse at some point in their formative years, and the best defense against it may not lie wholly in prevention efforts. Certainly, educating youths against substance abuse and on the dangers of such is a wise choice, but it isn’t enough on its own. Drug and alcohol abuse should be a continual point of conversation in the adolescent’s household. Youths who are routinely reminded of the reasons not to compromise their health and safety in an effort to fit in with their peers are far more likely to remain abstinent from drug and alcohol use than their counterparts. Children whose parents educate them on the risks of drug and alcohol use are 50 percent less likely to engage in those behaviors than those whose parents don’t do so. The biggest prevention effort for youths is likely the D.A.R.E program. Parents, educators, and youths alike are often surprised to find out how ineffective this program has been over the years, especially considering it is still in effect. One major study confirmed that students who participated in the D.A.R.E. program were no less likely to engage in substance use across the board, from cigarettes and marijuana to alcohol and heroin. The same applies to resistance to peer pressure; rates of such were the same 10 years after the D.A.R.E. program as they were prior to it. Overall, parents cannot rely on programs like this alone to prepare their child for the choices they must make in the future. The program is delivered to late elementary and middle school students with only booster classes during the high school years, despite the fact that the average time of onset for drug abuse occurs during high school. This further stresses the importance of continuing drug resistance education at home even when the D.A.R.E. program has long been over. If your child has made new friends and begins to act out of character, such as skipping school or failing to turn in classwork, there may be cause for concern regarding their new peer group. Every measure should be taken to find out what the real problem at hand is and remedy it. Drug and alcohol abuse comes with serious risks. More than 100 people die every day in America from a drug-related overdose. Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 17-20 year olds.
At Risk YouthsPeer pressure is merely one component to adolescent substance abuse. In 2012, 1,800,704 people sought treatment for a substance abuse problem in America, and 6.9 percent of them were between the ages of 12 and 17. Plenty of them were predisposed to drug and alcohol abuse and displayed risk factors for such, including:
- Parental substance abuse
- Peer rejection
- Child abuse or neglect
- Undiagnosed or untreated mental illness
- Aggressive behavior early in life
- Friends who abuse drugs or alcohol
- Poor academic performance