Peer pressure is something they tell you about early on in life. Many of us first hear about it from DARE officers in school. We see PSAs on television, and often receive talks from our parents. Unfortunately, however, we don’t always pay too much attention. We figure that we’ll never be at risk, that we’re strong enough to overcome pressure of any sort. Not to mention, it’s hard to imagine that our friends would ever pressure us to do something that could hurt us. So despite knowing all about the dangers of peer pressure, we decide that it simply isn’t an issue with which we need to concern ourselves.
That all seems well and good until we reach a situation in which peer pressure becomes a serious threat to our well-being. Perhaps we never used drugs until pressured by a friend. Or, perhaps we are in sobriety and a friend tells us not to worry so much about having a few drinks. If we’ve already thought about using, this might be the very thing that pushes us over the edge. And even if we feel dedicated to staying sober, we might start second-guessing ourselves after enough provocation.
We should never feel as if we must engage in substance abuse simply to please somebody else. But peer pressure puts us in precisely this position. In a recent article by The Fix, writer Katie MacBride notes that some individuals really don’t mean anything by it. Sometimes they just think it’s strange that a person isn’t following the crowd. Others simply wish to ask questions about why a person chose to become sober. But even this line of inquiry can feel a lot like peer pressure. MacBride lumps peer pressure into three categories, each of which we would like to examine below while providing our own insight into how to deal with these circumstances when they arise.
Peer Pressure Masked as Hospitality
In truth, we really shouldn’t be at events where alcohol is served. At the very least, we must be confident that we have made it through early sobriety before we even consider attendance at such functions. But they aren’t always avoidable. Sometimes we must attend certain work functions, or family events (such as weddings) at which no other former addicts or alcoholics may be present. In these cases, the person hosting the event might take an unusually active interest in our drinking. They feel like they’re a bad host if even one guest can’t be made comfortable with a cocktail or a glass of wine.
(Note: This category doesn’t really apply to drugs. If people are shooting heroin at your work functions, start getting your CV ready for a job hunt.)
MacBride provides two easy solutions for this type of peer pressure. One is to simply bring your own beverage. This prevents the host from feeling as if all they can serve you is tap water. (Although, technically, a good host should already have non-alcoholic options available.) The second solution is to simply change the subject. Talk about the food or the company or the decorations—anything that isn’t beverage-related. Not only does this allow you to get off the subject of drinking, but it also shows your host that you’re having a good time without alcohol. In most cases, this defuses the issue before it blows up into a more traditional form of peer pressure.
There are some other things to remember at functions like this. The first—which is also noted by MacBride—is to abstain from non-alcoholic beer. While it’s true that “near beer” contains only the most negligible amount of alcohol (it takes more than half a dozen non-alcoholic beers to deliver the same alcohol content as a regular beer), it can still be dangerous. Studies have shown that even the smell might be enough to trigger a relapse. Of course, telling your host about these studies might take you further down the rabbit hole. In some instances, it’s better to simply thank them but say that you don’t like the taste of beer in general.
For our money, however, it comes down to your familiarity with the host. Unless you feel there is good reason to fear for your job, your boss should know about your history. Your family should definitely know, as should many friends. If these people cannot support your sobriety, you should question the strength of your relationship with them. And if you can’t trust someone not to tempt you, then you probably shouldn’t be at their parties. Of course, the host isn’t always the person with whom you’ll have to contend on these issues.
Peer Pressure Masked as Nosiness
Some people, as noted by MacBride, really couldn’t care less if we choose not to drink or do drugs. But that doesn’t mean they’ll understand it, and they might have a lot of questions. MacBride offers some solid advice on this, which is that you’re not required to answer. If you can’t trust someone enough to tell them about your history, you don’t need to talk to them about it. Trustworthy people should understand when they’re making you uncomfortable. And if they don’t, feel free to tell them that.
MacBride does say one thing with which we might disagree to an extent. She notes that nosy people often ask questions because they’re looking for gossip. They want to know if drinking or drug abuse got us into rehab. They want to know if we no longer use because of medical problems. The more unsavory sort may hope that we have some sort of crazy sex history related to our substance abuse.
Certainly, there are people like those described above. But many simply don’t quite understand the concept of sobriety. If you consider yourself to be a decent judge of character, then you should be able to tell the difference. As long as someone doesn’t strike you as unsavory, feel free to tell them the truth if you wish. Explain the nature of your disease, and help them understand why you now choose sobriety. Curious people don’t always know when they’re crossing a line. In such instances, we get nothing out of being rude to them. And if their line of questioning still feels akin to peer pressure, simply tell them that. Truly understanding individuals will cease their questioning in short order.
The one thing that you should never tolerate is a line of questioning that truly does resemble peer pressure. When a person keeps asking if you can “just have one” or “just drink wine instead of booze,” you have every right to feel as if they are being insensitive. Again, you don’t necessarily need to be rude about it—although it’s tempting when someone else is being rude themselves. Simply make your position on the matter clear. If they can’t accept that you don’t want to talk about it, remove yourself from the conversation.
Peer Pressure in Its Purest Form
MacBride actually doesn’t talk about the most nefarious form of peer pressure. In her article, this section is replaced with a section about people who might ask questions because they or someone they know is struggling with their own substance abuse problems. But trust us—there are people out there who will definitely pressure you to use. And the worst part is that you won’t always know them when you see them.
Take, for example, this story from one of our employees. A few years before he got sober, a good friend of his entered AA. He enjoyed this person’s company, but not as much as he enjoyed drinking. As such, he hated feeling that he couldn’t drink around her. So he tried his own peer pressure. He repeated all the clichés—“AA is a cult,” “you’d have more fun if you drank,” “you just need to cut back a little.” When none of it worked, he stopped talking to her for years. It wasn’t until he entered treatment and got sober himself that he looked back on the experience in horror. He realized how wrong he had been. Not only does he have his friend back, but he now goes to her for advice on his sobriety.
His friend provides us with a model of the best way to respond to peer pressure. She never became angry, but she also never gave in. It’s also worth noting that she didn’t try to force sobriety on him. He clearly wasn’t ready for it, and his reaction would not have been pretty. But when he learned to see the error of his ways, she readily accepted his friendship. Those who face our sobriety with peer pressure aren’t necessarily bad people. They may be selfish in wanting us to do the same things they’re doing, but that doesn’t make them evil. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves some distance. Because it may be scary to lose a friend, but they might come back to us if they realize they share our issues. And if they don’t—well, a friend who doesn’t care about our health is hardly a real friend at all.
Those who go through our treatment programs receive a bit of extra help with this. We help our patients learn to form a relapse prevention plan. Through therapy, we teach them to recognize their triggers. You can’t prevent peer pressure from occurring, but you can do your best to ensure it won’t get the better of you. If drugs and alcohol are ruining your life, Amethyst Recovery will teach you to keep them from interrupting your recovery. Peer pressure is a real threat to those who suffer from alcoholism and addiction. Don’t let it be your undoing.