We tend to think of peer pressure as something that mainly affects adolescents. The phrase conjures tedious lectures from teachers, school counselors, and DARE officers.
While peer pressure is certainly strongest for adolescents, as social creatures, most of us are vulnerable to peer pressure to some degree throughout our lives. Peer pressure is still fairly strong even in young adulthood, between 18 and 25.
We all look around to see what other people are doing, especially if we’re in an unfamiliar situation. When you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, you’re not only fighting your own cravings but possibly the expectations of your family and friends as well.
In a perfect world, everyone around you would respect your wish not to use drugs or alcohol, but in reality, you’re likely to face peer pressure at some point. Here are some tips on how to handle it.
Think Ahead and Avoid Potentially Problematic Situations
The best advice, especially for someone new to recovery, is to think ahead and avoid putting yourself in a position where you’ll have to resist peer pressure. Whenever you’re getting ready to go somewhere, it’s a good idea to deliberately ask yourself, “Who might I encounter there and will they pressure me to use drugs or alcohol?” It may sound a bit silly, but making deliberate predictions about possible difficulties trains your brain to anticipate problems.
Prepare an Excuse in Advance
We can’t always avoid situations where we might be tempted by drugs and alcohol. If you’re going into a situation where, say, someone might offer you a drink, it’s a good idea to have an excuse prepared in advance and visualize yourself in some possible situations.
For example, if you’re going to an office party where there’s alcohol, typically you won’t need to say anything more than “No thanks.” You might feel obliged to offer some further comments such as,”I’m driving,” or “I have an early morning.”
You might want to have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand to deter offers. The important thing is that you imagine some likely scenarios beforehand so you’re better prepared to deal with them.
When going into a situation where you might feel peer pressure to drink or use drugs, it’s a good idea to have sober backup. Bring a friend. The best backup would be a sober friend, perhaps one from your 12-Step group, who can remind you of your intention to stay sober and provide some accountability.
Even if your friend is not in recovery, if they’re willing to stay sober, you’ll feel less on the spot when you refuse. Don’t underestimate the value of moral support. You don’t want to feel like you’re alone against the world.
Learn to Say No, Politely
Saying no is often harder than it seems. You may have to resist pressure from someone you’re not used to saying no to, perhaps even a parent or spouse. In those cases, it can take a bit of courage.
It’s also important to remember that when some people hear “no,” they infer judgment, like maybe since you quit drinking and using drugs, you feel like you’re better than they are. Since people with substance use issues have feelings of shame and self-criticism already, you don’t want to imply judgment of the other person. Sometimes it’s important to make clear that you’re refusing for personal reasons.
Be Prepared to Set Boundaries
In any case, your goal should be to set healthy boundaries with the people around you. The point is not necessarily to cut anyone out of your life—although that will sometimes be a good idea—but rather to let people know what behaviors are and aren’t ok.
Setting boundaries is about learning to say no—politely—but it’s also about listening and respecting other people. You can’t control other people though. All you can do is let them know how you expect to be treated and if they can’t accept that, then you should probably stay away from them.
Use Peer Pressure to Your Advantage
You’ve probably heard the saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. We all unconsciously pick up habits from our friends and family. We set our baseline expectations on their behavior and we adopt each other’s basic assumptions.
This is a big problem if you’re trying to stay sober and hanging around the same old crowd. However, it can work to your advantage if you’re spending most of your time around other sober people, especially if some of those people have been sober for a while.
Gradually, you adopt the behaviors and habits of sober people and the idea of using drugs and alcohol will begin to feel a bit foreign. This is one major reason a strong sober network is such a major part of a successful recovery.
It Gets Easier
The first few times you refuse a drink from someone you would typically drink with, it can feel uncomfortable, even jarring. You might feel like you’re throwing a wrench in the works or perhaps even jeopardizing the relationship.
However, it soon gets easier. After two or three times, your not drinking or using drugs becomes the new normal. People stop offering and you don’t even have to think about it.
The hard part comes at the beginning when you’re afraid of being judged or offending someone. And, of course, everything gets easier with practice, so the more you say no, the easier it will be in other situations.
Peer pressure is just one of the many situations that you have to learn to deal with in addiction recovery. A big part of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is learning to anticipate and deal with these peer pressure situations.
At Enlightened Solutions, we use a variety of proven methods to help our clients build the skills for a long recovery. For more information about our programs, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.