Peer Pressure and Drinking

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Although we usually associate alcohol peer pressure with teens and young adults, older adults are not immune. Peer pressure and alcohol exist well beyond high school and can creep into the social settings of our adult lives.

Think about the mommy wine culture where moms of young children gather to unwind from parental pressures and bond with other adults. Or work environments that promote “wining and dining” networking events. Many people may find it hard to say no to alcohol in these and other situations.

So let’s explore the concept of peer pressure alcohol consumption and ways we can avoid its clutches. Alcohol and peer pressure can be a dangerous combination for some, but it can be prevented with the right strategies and support.

Cultural & Social Influence to Drink

In many places around the globe alcohol is an easily accessible and socially acceptable substance for those of lawful drinking age. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that almost 90 percent of adults in the United States report drinking alcohol at some point.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) states that alcohol is considered the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States with alcohol beverage sales in the U.S. in the billions.

This multi-billion dollar industry is largely due to the millions spent on advertising on TV, radio, print, social media, and billboards. Not to mention promotions by bars, restaurants, and other establishments.

These ads usually show shiny, happy people living the “good life” on boats, beaches, and at glamorous parties. And it can be alluring to fall for the hype, even more so if alcohol is prevalent in our workplaces, families, and social circles.

How is Peer Pressure Linked to Drinking

The National Institutes of Health published a study on college drinking finding that “the quality of peer relationships is an important consideration when attempting to understand college drinking. ”Stable, intimate, and supportive peer relationships appear to influence one’s alcohol use.” 

The study informs that drinking is central to the college culture and is present at most social functions on and off campus. As students experience living away from home free from parental control, drinking is one way they can bond with others, and be a part of this new culture. In addition, they are forming a new psychological identity, and friendships are vital to this process. 

The students also consider college as a place to indulge in drinking before they enter the world of adulthood and all of its responsibilities. 

While adults may not be as susceptible as younger demographics they can still experience pressure to drink from certain people and situations. People of any age can feel the need for acceptance and belonging.

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Why do People Pressure Others to Drink?

It is a given that social drinkers don’t like to drink alone. They look forward to gathering for happy hours with friends and may tend to round up as many people as possible to partake. These social drinkers have the “more the merrier” mentality that can feel like pressure to those not interested in joining in.

The National Institutes of Health published a study on drinking together (social drinking) and drinking alone (solitary drinking). It concluded that there appear to be different factors that are associated with alcohol use in social and solitary settings, with social drinking related to “positive emotionality and sociality and solitary drinking related to negative emotionality and social discomfort.”

In other words, we are more likely to receive pressure from social drinkers than those who drink alone and feel socially uncomfortable.

How does Peer Pressure Influence Alcohol Use

The influences of peer pressure vary. More assertive people may find it easy to decline a drink, or any activity they are not interested in. Others may feel intimidated or embarrassed to refuse a drink when offered. They may not want to drink yet desire to fit in. 

While the occasional drinker can accept a drink and call it quits; succumbing to pressure and accepting the drink can be harmful for someone with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

What Percentage of People Drink Due to Peer Pressure?

While we may feel more comfortable declining a drink as an adult, peer pressure can still arise from time to time, perhaps at a wedding or a holiday gathering. We may feel like we are offending the host, or just feel generally awkward turning down that glass of champagne during a toast.

One study revealed that three in 10 adults feel pressured to drink alcohol in social situations.  Another study examined how many people didn’t cave into the pressure to drink. In this study of 2,000 adults who drink alcohol, 28 percent have made excuses to avoid drinking.

And 43 percent of the group admitted to canceling social plans to avoid the peer pressure of drinking alcohol.

Is Peer Pressure a Reason Adults Choose to Drink?

There are many reasons people choose to drink, to manage stress, to ease social anxiety, to cope with negative emotions, and of course the impact of genetics. And we can add peer pressure to the list, particularly among teens and younger adults. But as mentioned earlier, adults often drink when feeling pressured as well.

So how does peer pressure affect people’s drinking habits? There is no easy answer as we all respond to peer pressure differently. However, the urge to conform and feel accepted can affect alcohol use for many people. We may think it’s easier to accept the drink and avoid the hassle of explaining why we aren’t.

A 2019 survey demonstrated the influence of social pressure.  It found that 35% of UK adults reported drinking more than they wanted to because they were “encouraged by others.” Peer pressure is a powerful force when it comes to alcohol use.

How to Say No to Alcohol Peer Pressure

Drinking alcohol is so prevalent in our society that it is almost impossible to fully avoid exposure, but there are ways to respond when the situation arises. If you are feeling pressured to drink consider the following strategies: 

Commit to healthy habits: It doesn’t happen overnight, but once you start feeling good from eating well and exercising regularly you are less likely to sabotage your progress. The idea of putting alcohol in your body, or feeling hungover the next day may lose its appeal making it easier to say “no.”

Practice your responses: It is natural to feel uncomfortable when others are pressuring you to drink, even if they do so in a light-hearted manner. Consider practicing in front of the mirror. Or role-play the scenario with a friend, parent, or counselor. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will come across in the moment. 

Offer to be a designated driver: This is one of the easiest excuses. No one can challenge it!

Avoid alcohol-fueled events: If you have certain friends who like to party after work or on the weekends the easiest way to avoid any peer pressure is to not join in. After declining a few times they may stop offering, making it easier for you to avoid alcohol in the future. 

Suggest sober activities: Maybe you aren’t the only one who is bored with getting loaded every weekend and feeling hungover the next day. Suggest alternatives like going to an escape room, listening to a band, or playing retro board games. You may be surprised by the interest others show! 

Seek like-minded friends: If you are frequently feeling pressured to drink consider it a red flag. That may not be your group. You won’t have to say “no” if you hang out with people who have similar values and interests. Whether it’s playing a sport, joining a book club, or watching movies, pursue your interests and new friendships will develop.

Saying “no” to alcohol can be difficult especially if it has been a big part of your social life. It can be physically and emotionally challenging to change old patterns without support. 

Ria Health is an online program that can provide the support you need to quit or cut back on your alcohol use. Members get weekly meetings with coaches, access to anti-craving medications, and tracking tools all from a smartphone app. 

Your coach will help you design and stick to a goal plan based on your needs without disrupting your daily life. Learn more about how it works.

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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who believes in the uplifting power of words. She especially enjoys writing about health, relationships, employment, and living one’s best life. Lisa has a Master’s in Education and previously worked in vocational and educational services. Her articles can be found on Your Tango, Thrive Global, Heart to Heart, Medium, Muck Rack, and on various professional websites.
Reviewed By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.

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