Contributor: Erica Smith, M.A., NCC
High school can be one of the most challenging times in a person’s life. At this point, teenagers are trying to figure out who they are as individuals, yet they still long to fit in with their peers.
This is also a time when adolescents are testing their limits as they try to establish their own identity. Part of testing their limits often comes in the form of experimenting with things such as alcohol, drugs, and sex. When someone in a group of adolescents begins using substances, it can become a trickle-down effect as someone else joins him or her, and then another joins them, and so on.
Understanding Peer Pressure
The wider the scope of use becomes, the stronger the level of peer pressure inevitably becomes. At this point, even if a teen doesn’t necessary want to use drugs or alcohol, the fact that his or her friends are doing so can be enough to cause him or her to join in.
These teenagers become fearful that if they don’t participate, their friends will not see them as “cool” or as part of the group. The fear of isolation can be more than enough for some adolescents to begin experimenting with substances, even if they never had any previous intentions of doing so.
Accessibility to Drugs and Alcohol
One of the biggest problems affecting the vast array of drug use amongst high school students is the accessibility that they have to substances. With such open exposure, it is not unreasonable for teenagers to view the use of drugs and alcohol as being normal, or even desirable. This easy access to drugs can lead to increased experimentation and result in the onset of peer pressure for others to do the same.
Additionally, some adolescents may begin experimenting with drugs because they see it as somewhat of a rite of passage of growing up. Others may do so as a means of coping with different things that are occurring in their lives; things that they do not know how else to manage.
For example, some teenagers may be under pressure from their parents to perform at a certain level academically. The stress that this pressure elicits can lead to their wanting to find an escape, and that escape can come in the form of using drugs or alcohol. Other adolescents may use substances as a way to numb any emotional pain or turmoil that they are experiencing as a result of bullying, trauma, chaotic home lives, or other negative circumstances.
Social Media: A New Source of Peer Pressure
Another form of peer pressure that is not as commonly addressed is that of social media. Teenagers frequently post images of themselves on websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where they make reference to drinking alcohol or using drugs.
When other adolescents see these pictures, they often decide that it is a normal behavior and one that they want to partake in themselves.
A survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in 2012 showed that approximately 45% of teens who responded to the survey had seen pictures of their peers drinking or using drugs on social media sites. Of those adolescents, 75% said that seeing those images made them feel encouraged to drink and/or use drugs as well.
Teenage Drug Experimentation Can Turn Into addiction
Even when teenagers begin using substances as a seemingly harmless way to fit in, or as an experimentation, it can quickly spiral out of control. The abuse of drugs or alcohol can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. For these teens, an early intervention is needed in order to prevent a further downslide as they continue to get older.
There are a number of different treatment options available for adolescents who have started walking down the dangerous path of substance use. With early intervention and treatment, teenagers can learn the coping skills needed to help them overcome their addictions and develop the confidence to stand up against peer pressure.
Bio: “High School Peer Pressure Leads to Drug Use as a Way to Fit In” was written by Millcreek Behavioral Health clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.
Site Description: Millcreek Behavioral Health (http://www.millcreekbehavioralhealth.com) is a leading provider of healthcare services for children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17 who are struggling with behavioral, emotional, and/or chemical dependency concerns. Located in Fordyce, Arkansas, Millcreek is dedicated to ensuring that all patients, regardless of what level of care they need or what unique challenges they face, receive the most effective, thorough, and beneficial treatment possible.
Using a multicomponent model of treatment based on cognitive behavioral therapy, the staff at Millcreek helps adolescents who have developed a dependency on substances learn how to correct their maladaptive thinking patterns, develop strong coping skills that will aid in maintaining sobriety, and learn how to make better choices in order to facilitate lasting change.