Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Back to Blog

Resisting Peer Pressure: Tips From NIDA and SADD

drugs mental health peer pressure Mar 28, 2022

Originally, the mission of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) was to help young people say “No” to drinking and driving. Today, the mission has expanded. Students have told us that positive peer pressure, role modeling, and environmental strategies can prevent other destructive decisions and set a healthier, safer course for their lives. That is why SADD has become a peer-to-peer education, prevention, and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions. Because vehicle crashes are still the #1 killer of teens, our primary focus remains on traffic safety. However, we know the array of other issues our teens face have the potential to affect driving behavior and so we are committed to providing tools and prevention strategies that also address substance abuse and personal health and safety.

As students, you may see firsthand what happens in school every day. One issue that concerns us more and more is the misuse of drugs. Whether students are trying marijuana for the first time or taking prescription stimulants to stay awake, we’ve wondered: What makes some people want to use these substances and possibly harm their body?

There are many reasons why, but we know some students experiment with drugs because of peer pressure. The student leaders we work with in Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) are preparing their peers to respond when someone offers them drugs.  Here are some of their tips.

Stand your ground

If someone asks you to try drugs, “no” is such a powerful word. Be polite, but stand your ground. You could suggest doing something healthy or active instead, like bowling, or hiking, or going to a movie. Suggesting alternatives might encourage some of your peers to resist the pressure to use drugs, too.

Another idea: Come up with a phrase for saying no that’s so unique, it lightens the situation instead of creating tension. One person’s phrase was, “I have to go rhinestone my unicorn.”

Create a family plan

Let’s be real. Resisting the pressure to use drugs isn’t always easy. So, it’s good to have a plan in place for these situations. One idea is to have a discussion with your parents about what to do. For instance, you could create a code word to text to your family or another trusted person so they’ll call you right away. This gives you a safe, reliable way to exit the situation.

You really can resist peer pressure to use drugs. Surrounding yourself with positive influences, finding creative ways to say no, and setting up a family plan can help.

Peer pressure and the brain

Peer pressure can influence teens’ choices about a lot of things. New research shows that, when making a decision, teens think about both the risks and rewards of their actions and behaviors—but, unlike adults, teens are more likely to ignore the risk in favor of the reward.

In a NIDA-funded study, teens driving with their friends in the car were more likely to take risks—like speeding through yellow lights—if they knew that two or more of their friends were watching. Teens were also significantly more likely to act this way than adults in the same experiment.

Researchers monitored the brain activity of all the teen drivers in the study. Results showed that just knowing friends were watching activated brain regions linked with reward, especially when the teen drivers made risky decisions.

Taking control of your choices

So, be aware: The desire to impress your friends may override your fear of taking risks. This could also apply to deciding whether to try drugs or alcohol—your decision might be influenced by who’s around and if you think they’d be impressed.

When you already know the risks, yet you want to impress your friends, do you run the light or slow down and stop?  Do you accept a drink or turn it down?  Do you go with the crowd or be your own person and impress others with your individuality?  What are some ways you could put the brakes on long enough to think twice before making a decision to do something you know is risky?

Resisting peer pressure

A lot of people are standing up for what they believe in these days. Sooner or later, you’ll probably have the chance to do that, too. If you feel pressured into using drugs or anything else you don’t want to do, you can resist.

The power to resist

“Resist” means you don’t give in to, or go along with, something that somebody wants you to do. Resisting peer pressure can be a challenge—especially for teens, who often want to impress their friends, even if it means taking a risk.

But you can resist peer pressure with practice and a few tips.

Resistance tips

First of all, you can remind yourself that most teens don’t use alcohol or drugs.

Our sister institute, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, offers these tips for resisting an offer to use drugs or alcohol (and the pressure tactics that the person offering might use):

  • Look the person in the eye

  • Speak in a polite, but clear and firm, voice

  • Suggest something else to do

  • Walk away from the situation

  • Find something else to do with other friends

You can always blame your resistance on your parents. Say, “I’d be in big trouble if they ever found out.” You never have to do anything that will harm your health. You always have the right to resist. 

Getting help

If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now:

  • Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don’t just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)

If you need information on drug treatment and where you can find it, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help.

For more information, visit Students Against Destructive Decisions and National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.