How to resist peer pressure from good friends

May 9, 2014

After a successfully completing an addiction treatment program, a strong support network of friends who understand the struggles that someone working through recovery faces is crucial to ensuring long-term sobriety. Good friends are not only important as a way for a former drug user to voice his or her frustrations about life in recovery, but they are also integral during that person’s journey in recreating a new life for him or herself.

Invariably, that new life should not include drinking. Not everyone can control how their friends choose to spend their leisure time, however, and being around people who drink – especially to an excessive degree – can create issues for someone in recovery from alcohol abuse. Even though the term “peer pressure” may be most often applied to teenagers’ first exposure to drinking, the effect is still very real for those in recovery. Rather than avoiding all mention of friends who drink, understanding how peer pressure can unconsciously affect drinking habits can equip those in recovery with the tools they need to stay sober even under duress.

Understanding peer pressure in adults

Most full-grown adults will most likely deny that their choices are influenced by external sources, but with the prevalence of advertising materials in everyday life, the fact of the matter is that persuasion works on everybody. This effect may vary from person to person, though the least suspected source of this influence may come from a person’s closest friends.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool and published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that when drinking in pairs, friends are more likely to imitate each other’s drink orders, frequency of imbibing and overall volume of consumption.

The researchers constructed a bar-type setting within a laboratory and invited 46 pairs of friends to complete a mock game, with the winner awarded the right to order his or her drink first. This person was then instructed by the researchers to either order an alcoholic drink or a soda.

Of the people whose partners ordered an alcoholic drink, 80 percent followed their friend’s lead. When a friend ordered a soda, only 30 percent chose to order an alcoholic one. However, when asked if their actions had been influenced by the preceding order of their acquaintances, only 19 percent admitted that they may have altered their decision based on their partner’s order.

The findings of the study may be particularly interesting to those in recovery from excessive alcohol use. Unconscious urges to relapse are a constant danger to people with histories of substance abuse, though determining causes for those urges can bring them one step closer to successfully resisting relapse triggers.

Preventing peer pressure

While the safest way to cut out any influences that may drive those in recovery to relapse is to avoid any and all interaction with alcohol, complete abstinence may not be an option for some people. Especially if friends are still engaged in social drinking activities, it may even be important for the social life of someone in recovery to keep friendships going with others.

In cases such as these, it is crucial that the person in recovery builds the necessary skills to resist the unconscious influence to drink that friends can exert. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlined several strategies to employ when peer pressure may be compelling someone to make an unwise decision.

First, do not hesitate to refuse. While friends may be well-meaning, they may not understand the realities of recovery as intricately as someone working through it, and they may take hesitation as a sign of uncertainty. A quick refusal to drink signals clear intentions.

Also, short responses that do not leave room for discussion can be an effective way to communicate that someone does not want to drink.

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