Peer Pressure Does Not Play a Big Role in Substance Abuse Among Young Adults, But Peers Do!

A new study performed by Purdue University shows that peer pressure may not play as big as role in substance abuse among young adults as previously thought, but the study also shows that peers have a big influence on drug and alcohol abuse at this stage in life. Anthropology and sociology professor Brian Kelly, who co-authored the study and who examines drug abuse and the cultures of various groups of youth around the world, stated “With the 18-29 age group we may be spending unnecessary effort working a peer pressure angle in prevention and intervention efforts. That does not appear to be an issue for this age group. Rather, we found more subtle components of the peer context as influential. These include peer drug associations, peers as points of drug access, and the motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have pleasant times with friends.”

Substance abuse among young adults is a big problem, and in the past peer pressure was often seen as a reason for these trends. According to Professor Kelly, who also holds the position of director with the Purdue Center for Research on Young People’s Health, “People normally think about peer pressure in that peers directly and actively pressure an individual to do what they are doing. This study looks at that form of direct social pressure as well as more indirect forms of social pressure. We find that friends are not actively pressuring them, but it’s a desire to have a good time alongside friends that matters. We found that peer drug associations are positively associated with all three outcomes. If there are high perceived social benefits or low perceived social consequences within the peer network, they are more likely to lead to a greater frequency of misuse, as well as a greater use of non-oral methods of administration and a greater likelihood of displaying symptoms of dependence. The motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have a good time with friends is also associated with all three outcomes. The number of sources of drugs in their peer group also matters, which is notable since sharing prescription drugs is common among these young adults.”


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