Managing peer pressure to drink
It’s pretty normal to want to be part of a group and feel like you belong. In a culture like ours where drinking alcohol is such a big part of socialising, saying no can make you feel left out or like you’re not having as much fun.
Your parents as well as your peers might expect you to drink so it’s important to be ready to resist pressure from various angles. Remember parents and other adults aren’t always the best role models when it comes to drinking. Irish adults have high rates of long term risky drinking.
Staying with non-alcoholic drinks and resisting the pressure to drink a lot can take determination. There are a few simple things you might be able to do to make sticking to your decision easier.
What’s peer pressure?
Peer pressure, as you probably know, is the influence people sometimes use to make us behave in a way we don’t necessarily want to, or stop us doing things we do want to do. If our peers all seem to be doing something or have a certain opinion, we can feel under pressure to do or think the same so we don’t get left out.
A peer can be anyone you look up to or someone who you would think is an equal in age or ability. A peer could be a friend, someone in the community or even someone on TV. You might come under peer pressure to live up to either an individual or group’s expectations or follow a particular fashion or trend. Check peer pressure for more.
How can peer pressure affect your alcohol consumption?
Peer pressure can sometimes be a positive influence and keep you from over-doing it. If your friends tell you you’ve had enough to drink, you might feel pressured to stop. But peer pressure can also make you do stuff that doesn’t fit with your sense of what’s right and wrong.
You could feel like you’ve had enough to drink on a night out, but your friends might make you drink more because everyone else is still drinking. They might not even realise they’re doing it and the “ah go on” might not really mean anything, but can put you in a difficult position.
Where does this peer pressure come from?
Peer pressure to drink can happen where you work, at school, at college or within the general community. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, and it can happen in a few different ways:
- Directly – someone telling you directly that you should be drinking to fit in with the crowd. If you’re having a hard time with this, talk to someone you trust – a friend, family member, teacher, youth worker or counsellor. See face-face help for more on how they can help.
- Indirectly – this type is a bit less obvious. It’s pretty common for a group of friends to base their social life around drinking. This can be especially true with certain jobs where everyone goes to the pub after work or drinking is part of entertaining clients. You can end up getting in to the habit of drinking more than you would otherwise, or with other groups of friends.
- Individual – sometimes the pressure to drink too much can come from yourself. Feeling different can be hard. To avoid this, sometimes we do things just to feel like we belong. Thing like moving to a new area or starting at a new school or college can be pretty intimidating. You have to make new friends and fit into a new environment. When you’re feeling unsure about yourself you can feel the effects of peer pressure a bit more and resort to stuff like drinking to boost your confidence and stop feeling nervous. For tips on feeling less anxious in social situations, check out social anxiety.
What can you do about it?
Part of being yourself involves making decisions based on what’s best for you. It can mean you take ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think.
It doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the group – you might even find that your mates or the people you work with appreciate you having your own perspective on things.
Some suggestions to help you manage peer pressure to drink:
- Like-minds – hanging out with people who like doing similar stuff may help you not to feel pressured into stuff you don’t want to do. Being seen hanging out in the cool crowd may not be as much fun as it looks.
- Saying no – having the strength to say ‘no’ may be hard. However, it may also feel good to stick with what you believe in. Explaining to people in a calm way why you don’t want to be part of something may earn you respect from others. For more info on how to be assertive, see efffective communication.
- Don’t judge - if possible, try not to judge other people’s choices. Respecting someone else’s choice will help them to respect yours. Try to remember you don’t have to agree with their point of view, but they have a right to their own opinions.
- Take action - sometimes you’re able to tackle peer pressure because you’re older or feel more confident in your environment. Standing up for someone else can also put a stop to peer pressure while still being positive and keeping the atmosphere light.
- Pretend – instead of getting another drink, grab a soft drink and pretend it’s alcoholic. Sometimes people can be insistent, even when you say no (especially if they’re drunk). As a last resort, sometimes it can be easier just to pretend you’re having a vodka and Coke when it’s really just a Coke. A white lie in times of need!
- Get creative – think of stuff to do with your mates that doesn’t revolve around drinking. Bit of a challenge here, but get creative and have a laugh with it!