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Just the Facts: Peer Pressure

“JUST THE FACTS” is a series focused on substance use and mental health written especially for young adults and their parents. It’s easy to understand and judgment-free, giving young adults just the facts they need to help them make informed choices.

Have you ever heard about the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign from the 80’s?

At the time, First Lady Nancy Reagan said she came up with the name while meeting with school children in Oakland, CA when a student asked her, ‘Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’”

“Just say no,”  Mrs. Reagan replied.

But in retrospect, those three words oversimplified both the nature and reality of what happens surrounding substance use.  Critics have said the message was too simplistic and vague. We have to know why we are saying “no”, and that requires real information we all need to make decisions.

Peers are the people who are part of your same social group, so the term “peer pressure” refers to the influence you have on one another.  “Pressure” usually implies the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something — and has more of a negative effect.

You are pressured to do the same things as others — and you have to do it in order to be liked or respected by them.  And BTW: this is not limited to teens. If they are being honest, most people over 30 will probably admit they still feel pressured to be like their friends or work colleagues.   

Is peer pressure sometimes a good thing?

Yes, but let’s call that peer support.  Are they encouraging you to grow as a person? Supporting you as a friend? Encouraging your ability in sports, a competition, in theater, volunteer,  or get you to be “more green”? It’s not always a bad thing if you end up growing as a person or are doing good for others.

Is it just about making you feel bad?

No — it can actually be active or passive. Active peer pressure means that someone is actively trying to persuade you to do something. Passive peer pressure means that you may not be actively pushed by your friends, but you may feel like you have to go along with the crowd in order to fit in.

Why do my friends try to get me to vape/drink with them?

People vape for a wide variety of reasons: boredom, curiosity, rebellion, and so on.  Your friends may know it’s not good for them, but decide to take the risk. They may also simply be unaware of the health risks.  (You can check out our Vaping resource for more information).

Sometimes your friends may feel like you are judging them if you don’t join in.  If that’s the case, one person we talked to uses, “That’s cool, but I’m going to pass today. I don’t feel like it.”

So how do I turn people down without just saying no?

You can figure out a reason that works ahead of time.  Some examples:

  • “I have asthma, and my doctor told me I can’t (smoke, vape, use drugs) along with my asthma medication.”
  • “I’m up for a new job (or entering military service, sports, law enforcement) and I can’t risk it when I get tested.”  
  • “No thanks. I’m just not into it.”
  • We also like the subReddit acronym “IWNDWYT.”  That means: I will not drink with you today.

And if that doesn’t work?

We know some people who use a tried and true excuse: blame your parents!  Seriously — when all else fails, you can generally save face when you cash your parent card whether it’s smoking, using or drinking.  For example, a teen who is pressured to drink or use might say, “No, I can’t. My mom waits up for me and she’ll know if I smell like beer/weed. I’d be grounded for life.”

Others use an agreed on phrase to text a parent or a friend whey they don’t want to look like they are bailing  — which becomes code for “get me out of here.”

Finally, this may be your least favorite option — but let’s just put it out there: you can make the decision to change your group of friends.   Some will respect that and follow you. Others won’t. If they don’t respect your choices, they never respected you in the first place.