How Peer Pressure is a gateway to Addiction

October 4, 2021
Johann Kassim

Having friends and family is a good thing. Human beings are social creatures. By living together, we get our needs met, and society provides support for each member. Yet, addiction does not happen in a vacuum. Occasionally, our immediate family or friends could have been a cause for addiction. Whether direct or subtle, peer pressure may have been a gateway to addiction.

Pressure here refers to any stimuli that pushed the addict towards an addiction. It could be that a family member or friend was abusing substances, and steered the addict towards it. Or it could be the absence of care provided by loved ones who were not aware of what was happening to their loved ones. This could lead to unaddressed trauma. To know more about unaddressed trauma as a cause for addiction, click here. In this, peer pressure is a definite gateway to addiction.

How is peer pressure, a gateway to addiction?

There are many reasons why peer pressure may lead to addiction. Some of those reasons are as follows:

Social learning theory

People learn from others. This is how we have survived as a species. If we could not emulate what our elders have taught us, we would not be able to survive and reproduce. Hence, for survival sake, we are social learners. But, this fact also explains why addicts will learn to use from those around them. If a peer or a family member takes drugs, it's possible to pick up the addiction. Moreover, if they see that it is cool to smoke, then they smoke. This is especially so when they equate the taking of drugs or addictive behaviour as a way to release pent up stress.


Addiction may have started due to curiosity. There is a sense of wonder around others doing something enjoyable. Addicts would be tempted to join in because they want to know what it feels like to use/drink/ engage in an addictive behaviour. Hence, curiosity can be one of the factors that pressure addicts into addiction. It's not direct peer pressure, but the environmental pressure of being around those who are using/drinking.  A lot of people who argue against the "Just Say No" campaign say that it's not always about external temptations. But, it's intimately connected with more intricate social processes. These include the sense of curiosity.

Sense of belonging and low self esteem

Codependency is a condition by which people depend on others for their sense of esteem. Esteemed individuals do not need others to tell them their worth. But, codependents depend on others to validate their existence. For more information on codependency, take a look at this link. Addicts are codependents and addiction has been a way to medicate this sense of low self-esteem. Hence, addicts may want to try out the drugs as a result of wanting to belong. These are people who would do anything to belong to a certain "cool clique". What they seek is self-validation and not necessarily the drugs. But, in the process, drugs become a catalyst for social cohesion.

Addiction by Force

Few consider this as a viable reason for peer pressure. Yet, it is the most direct reason why anyone would get addicted to drugs/alcohol/addictive behaviour. A family or peer could have forced the addict to take drugs or alcohol. In other words, the addict could have been a victim of another's power trip. They may be coerced to take the drugs or else face violent consequences. Usually, this scenario happens amid members of various gangs or unruly families. Or in the case of sex addiction, the addict may have been raped.

Perceived normality 

If a group finds that taking drugs is a norm, then doing so doesn't seem out of the blue or abnormal. In fact, not doing so, will seem abnormal. Hence, addiction is a disease of perception because in reality, taking drugs/alcohol/engaging in addiction is abnormal. In normal reality, people tackle their problems head on. They do not run away from it. And by doing so, receive a natural high in life.  Read Getting Back The Natural High for more information. 

Positive Peer Pressure 

Recovery and treatment is the reverse of addictive peer pressure. It is positive peer pressure. It starts with a willingness to give up addiction. Then, it builds in various social groups committed to recovery. These groups are composed of individuals who, at one time, was addicted, but like yourself, have found recovery. In such support groups, positive peer pressure comes in diverse forms. First, it could be an old-timer's share that's inspiring. How could this man/woman be clean for so long? What's his/her secret? Then, curiosity provokes questions from the newcomer. Some in these situations are also forced into recovery. And most will learn from others how to be clean, just as one learnt socially how to use/drink/engage in addictive behaviour. At Solace Sabah, we hope to engage our clients with this new way of life. You or a loved one will recover in a community setting. It's because we find that just as the disease of addiction was social from its beginnings; so is recovery. Learning a new way of living is not an isolated experience. And here, our clients will begin the adventure of getting well to live a new life. For more information on our treatment, please call us. We'll be most happy to help you.

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