Peer Pressure and Alcohol: What’s the Connection?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined peer pressure as “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age and social group to be liked or respected by them.” Most of the time, it’s connected to teens and kids, but peer pressure can happen at any age. Underage drinking is a serious public health issue in the United States. On top of that, alcohol is the most widely used substance.
In general, 85% of high school students said they had felt it in some form.
Overall, 28% said that giving in to peer pressure makes a difference in the long run by helping them advance socially.
When considering the impact of peer pressure, it’s important to realize how many kids aren’t affected.
Underage drinking is a serious problem. Although adults may take steps to reduce a teen’s access to alcohol, many find a way to get it. Generally, by age 15, about 33% of teens have had at least one drink.
By the time they’re 18, the number of teens that have had at least one drink is almost double the number at age 15.
Why are Peer Pressure and Alcohol Linked?
Since it’s socially acceptable to consume alcohol, it’s the most commonly used substance in a peer-pressure situation. A lot of people start using alcohol due to direct or indirect pressure they receive from their peers who are drinking.
In 2021, 5.9 million youth (ages 12 to 20) reported drinking more alcohol than “just a few sips” in the past month. And what are the reasons for this?
- As children mature, it’s normal for them to declare their independence, look for new challenges, and participate in risky behavior.
- Peer pressure
- Easy access to alcohol
In 2021, among teens ages 12 to 14 who admitted to drinking alcohol in the past month, 99.7% said they got it for free the last time they drank. Often, they have access to alcohol through family members or find it at home.
Negative and Positive Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is typically thought of as negative. But in fact, alcohol and peer pressure can be either positive or negative. Negative peer pressure and addiction tend to be linked. This type of peer pressure leads to an individual taking part in unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol use. In addition, peer pressure and addiction relapse may also be connected because this pressure can cause a relapse after an addict has decided to pursue recovery.
Negative pressure can be obvious, such as offering an individual a drink or mocking someone who doesn’t want to participate in drinking. But it can also be more indirect. For example, if popular students choose to drink alcohol, other students may feel that they should drink to be accepted by their peers.
On the other hand, positive peer pressure encourages a person to make positive choices. A peer or group may promote positive behavior by supporting others who avoid using certain substances. Positive peer pressure can include motivating a friend to study more or saving money for a financial goal.
Although adolescents drink less often than adults, they drink more when they do drink. More than 90% of all alcohol consumed by youth is consumed through binge drinking. In 2021, about 613,000 adolescents age 12 to 20 admitted to binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month, and 3.2 million reported binge drinking at least one time in the past month.
Many adolescents consume most of their alcohol by binge drinking. Binge drinking means consuming an excessive quality of alcohol in a short time. Binge drinking involves:
- 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for males
- 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for females
This is seriously risky behavior that can cause a lot of problems including alcohol poisoning. Frequent binge drinking will start to take a toll on a person’s relationships, school work, and other goals in the long term.
How Much is in a Drink?
In the U.S. a standard drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer that has about 5% alcohol content
- 5 ounces of wine with about 12% alcohol content
- 5 ounces of distilled spirits that has about 40% alcohol content
A heavily poured mixed drink or a large cup of beer or wine could contain much more alcohol than a standard drink.
What are Some Warning Signs of Underage Drinking?
Adolescence is a period of growth and change, including changes in behavior. These are typical parts of growing up but sometimes can indicate an alcohol problem. Family members, teachers, and friends are usually the first to see the warning signs of underage drinking.
Some symptoms may be easy to recognize but others may not be as noticeable. No matter how minor the warning signs might seem, they should be taken seriously and immediately addressed. Waiting for a drinking problem to fix itself can only make the situation worse. The following warning signs that may indicate underage drinking:
Adolescents who drink have sudden changes in their behavior. Mood changes may involve irritability, aggressiveness, anger, and defensiveness. You may notice abrupt changes in behavior–happy one minute and upset the next.
Drinking can cause issues and behavioral problems at school. Sometimes students skip school, disrupt class, fail to complete homework, and get failing grades. These are signs of a problem and should be handled immediately.
When an adolescent’s group of friends changes dramatically it can be a sign of alcohol use. Any information you get about their new friends is usually limited and they typically keep a distance from family members. When talking about going out with their new friends they don’t tend to say where they’re going, who will be there, and when they’ll be back.
Many adolescents participate in extracurricular activities and have hobbies during the middle and high school years. But youth who have an alcohol problem are less likely to care about sports, hobbies, or other activities. They are only focused on getting and drinking alcohol.
This may be the biggest red flag and needs to be addressed immediately.
Alcohol has a very strong scent and can be detected on an adolescent’s breath or as it seeps through their pores. They may try to cover it up with breath mints or body spray to avoid confrontation with their parents.
Memory loss is a common side effect of heavy drinking but problems remembering things don’t just happen to long-term alcoholics. Alcohol can significantly affect an adolescent’s memory because their brain is still developing. Another problem caused by drinking is a lack of concentration. A person under the influence of alcohol is usually easily distracted and unable to focus on a task for very long.
Other noticeable symptoms of alcohol use include slurred speech, problems with coordination, bloodshot eyes, and a flushed face. These are all red flags to watch out for.
The Consequences Of Underage Drinking
Underage drinking can contribute to many short- and long-term side effects. Sadly, adolescents don’t often think about the consequences connected to their drinking patterns until it’s too late. Some of the effects can even stay dormant for years before showing up. An adolescent drinker will likely experience one or more of these negative consequences:
- Problems at school
- Social problems
- Health issues
- Sexual or physical assault
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- High risk of suicide attempts
- Legal difficulties
- Use of other substances
Every year, there are more than 4,000 alcohol-related deaths in people under the age of 21. This includes:
- Car accidents
- Alcohol poisoning
Adolescents who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol at some time in their lives.
As an adolescent gets older, additional effects of alcohol use can develop. Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Liver disease
- Nerve damage
- Respiratory infections
The only way to prevent these health risks is to quit drinking. Every day, month, and year that passes alcohol-free reduces the chances of serious complications.
Tips for Managing Peer Pressure
Everyone wants to be accepted and fit in with their friends, but it can be difficult when you feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do. Often, fitting in is something that is only going on in your head. The reality is that most people are so tied up with their own lives that they are not thinking about you and whether or not you act like everyone else.
However, if you feel like you’re being pressured to conform to the behavior of a certain group, here are some alternatives to going along with the crowd:
- Stand your ground about what you do and don’t want to do
- Find friends that share your values
- Help others if you see them being pressured
Prepare an excuse such as:
- You go ahead. I’m going to sit this one out.
- That doesn’t seem right. I know I’m being a wimp but I’d rather not.
- I’m not interested but you have fun.
- I have to get up early for school/work tomorrow
- I have an important test tomorrow and can’t afford to miss it.
Treating Underage Drinking
It’s very important to screen youth for alcohol use and it may prevent problems down the road. Screening by a primary care provider or pediatrician provides an opportunity to spot the problems early and take care of them before it escalates. It also gives adolescents the chance to ask questions of a knowledgeable adult. Some teens can experience serious problems as a result of drinking including alcohol use disorder (AUD), which requires intervention by trained professionals. Treatment options include:
- Attending group or individual counseling sessions
- Medication to help reduce alcohol cravings
- Family therapy to build a supportive foundation for recovery at home
Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Luna Recovery
Luna Recovery in Houston, TX, is one of the few treatment centers that offer an adolescent program. Because we know that teens respond to treatment better when surrounded by peers who are going through the same struggles, we have designed a program specifically for them. Our goal is to address the physical and mental needs that occur with AUD. Many adolescents have mental issues that are the underlying cause of their alcohol use or as a result of alcohol use.
At Luna Recovery, we also understand that addiction is a family problem so we include the family in the education and healing process. Early treatment is vital to improve the quality of life for your adolescent and the whole family. Contact us today for information and answers to your questions.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.