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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Pressure from friends to drink and take drugs

Peer pressure is the idea that young people take drugs or drink alcohol because of pressure from other people their age. There were some examples of people having been pressured to use illegal drugs and alcohol but these were less from ‘peers’ than from an older boyfriend or an older group of friends. For the young people we talked to, ‘peer pressure’ was more about wanting to ‘fit in’ or follow the crowd, rather than about blaming others. Comments made by friends in social situations were described as jokes or banter rather than bullying.
 

Mary Ann thinks that she started getting drunk to fit in with friends (Played by an actress).

Mary Ann thinks that she started getting drunk to fit in with friends (Played by an actress).

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I think with peer pressure and going to an upper school and trying to fit in everything as well, because of you’re thirteen, and I always drink to get paralytic, I never drink just to have a, I always have to get completely and utterly para, like to the point where I can’t remember stuff
 
But and then I think as I was growing up alcohol, just every single weekend, as soon as Friday come that’s it, straight Vodka, that’s what you used to drink from the age of thirteen, and you kind of become, but obviously you don’t know what drinks do what and you don’t know not to mix your drinks and stuff do you? So I was drinking Vodka, Cider, Beer, everything just mixed and it, just to get completely and utterly para, and that was it, and it’s a waste of money and I think as I’ve got older I carried on doing that.
 
 

Bekky started drinking alcohol with her friends because she didn’t want to feel left out or be called ‘boring’.

Bekky started drinking alcohol with her friends because she didn’t want to feel left out or be called ‘boring’.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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What were your motivations to try alcohol that first time?
 
I think it were just because my friends were drinking it so I thought, oh if my friends were doing it then I’d want to try it. Just see what all the fuss is about really.
 
Ok so it was just sort of...
 
A bit of peer pressure and stuff.
 
Peer pressure. You thought that sort of kind of they might kind of reject you a bit if you’d say, ‘No I don’t want alcohol’?
 
I think they would because if I had, if I would have said, ‘No’ then I would have been the only one that weren’t drinking then probably would have been only one that was sober. So and they’d be like, ‘Oh well you’re being boring, come on what you being like that for? Everybody does it.’ And I think they just like pressurise you a bit until you agreed and you’d feel left out and like you weren’t part of the team and that, part of them.
 
Of the group?
 
Yeah.
 
So you did it because of peer pressure because everybody...
 
Yeah
 
...else was doing it. And how often were you drinking around that time?
 
Well it were people, my friends really only went out every Friday but I think for me mainly like once or twice a month, not as much because I just didn’t like the taste really. 
In some situations it was easier to do as other people were doing. Peter thought that his own heavy drinking was a result of his competitive nature and culture in the UK. Emma also told us that competition can encourage heavy drinking. The girls in her university sport team always try to match the boys’ team when they go out drinking. Peter and Joe both talked about the pressure there is among groups of young men to drink a lot.
 

Peter feels more pressure to drink a lot when he’s out with other young men. He says that even bar tenders seem to disapprove when he orders a non-alcoholic drink.

Peter feels more pressure to drink a lot when he’s out with other young men. He says that even bar tenders seem to disapprove when he orders a non-alcoholic drink.

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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It always happens the same way though it starts like I’ll go for a lunchtime drink and someone will end up convincing me to have one and. You know there’s a lot of pressure on you culturally to drink in this country, a lot of pressure.
 
What will happen to a young man like you if you say no I’m going to have water for a change.
 
I mean to be honest I can, I’ve gone plenty of times and I’ve drunk cranberry juice or pomegranate juice. I mean I’ve done it plenty of times. You always get a bit of a funny look from the person behind the bar if you’re male and ask for a drink like that. I always find that you’re, they’re always surprised at a male ordering a drink like that I find. And I think I’d probably feel more comfortable doing that drinking with females than males.
 
I’d feel a little bit more peer pressure if I was in a bar with males and everyone had a pint of lager and I had a glass of cranberry juice, for instance.
 
Ok because there is this image of sort of tough guys, drinker?
 

Oh yeah and I’m generally as a male I’m quite competitive. You know I like to partake in most male activities. Like I like to go to the gym, do sports and various stuff like that so. 

 

Joe thinks young men are expected to get drunk and rowdy.

Joe thinks young men are expected to get drunk and rowdy.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I think there is, yeah certain, certain times that it certainly applies to guys like I think if you’re going out with the boys it’s always kind of assumed that ‘oh the boys are going to go out and get rowdy’ and yeah so you have to get drunk and you can’t go out have just have a quiet drink with, if there’s a big group of you it’s assumed that you are all going to drink heavily.  
 

When Joe turned 18 his friends expected him to drink beer instead of alcopops, because it’s considered a more ‘manly’ drink.

When Joe turned 18 his friends expected him to drink beer instead of alcopops, because it’s considered a more ‘manly’ drink.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I remember when, when we turned, when we just turned eighteen and we started coming out of the town that we were in and into, into the City to go to clubs and pubs, there was a lot of pressure from the other boys, again like it had been when I was sixteen to drink beer as opposed to alcopops, when we started going to pubs the pressure was to drink pints, and not spirits and, you know, again it was ‘oh men drink pints’, so they would have six or seven pints on, you know, the course of a night and after two or three I would feel ill, I just, I’m not a massive beer drinker, I prefer to have a, have a spirit and take longer over it than it would if I’d have a pint. But again to follow the crowd I would drink pints and then after four or five I’d be outside being ill, you know and they’d be laughing, and it probably took me a few months of being eighteen and going out frequently to realise that just wasn’t, you know, I was happy to, for them to laugh at me if I ordered a spirit instead, than having a pint and being ill and not enjoying it. So, but I think there’s a lot of peer pressure around that age when you first start going out to fit in with the crowd and fit in with the norm, as opposed to standing out with my alcopop like a, yeah.
 
They would laughed at you?
 
Yeah, and teased and, and joked.
 
Teased?
 
Not in a, never bully as such and force you to have one but, yeah they’d make a comment if you didn’t have one, didn’t have a pint and yeah in a friendly way.
 
Okay,just like, you are not following the rules of the game?
 

Yeah and they’d go, “Oh why are you having a girl’s drink [Joe]?” You know that, just playful kind of banter, but yeah drawing attention to it and making you feel like you probably should have a pint yeah but never bullied to the point where they would pour my drink away and say, you know, “Have a pint instead.” But, yeah they’ve, they’ve made reference to it. 

Some people, like Kasim and Harry, told us that they were the only people responsible for their choices around drugs and alcohol. Harry said ‘I’ve always been responsible for my own downfall’.
 

Kasim’s group at school spent their time smoking rather than studying but he takes responsibility for his own actions.

Kasim’s group at school spent their time smoking rather than studying but he takes responsibility for his own actions.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Kasim' So yeah I think in school I think there was a lot of pressure to be cool and to smoke cigarettes and stuff because you didn’t want to, I think. What is the word we used? I think it was ‘neak’ or something. You didn’t want to be in with the neakie category who didn’t smoke and stuff. But I think if maybe I hung around with them, the neakes like basically like the people that was just.
 
Karis' Put their head down in school yeah who’ve got
 
Kasim' I don’t reckon that I would be in this predicament what I’m in now. I reckon I would probably be in uni and stuff and not saying that like I don’t, I’m not out or like I don’t go out of the area or stuff but I’d be. I’d have like different,
 
Karis' You’ve got like more potential
 
Kassim' more potential and I’d have different sets of people. I’d have like yeah I reckon I would be different but I would be different definitely.
 
So you say that it’s easy from a cigarette to go and try cannabis?
 
Kasim' I think it all boils down to the person. I mean like I can sit here and say, ‘Oh yeah I got in with the wrong crowd and stuff’. Yeah that was a part of it but I wouldn’t blame my friends for my actions. Do you know what I mean?
 
Karis' Yeah no I mean you can’t. Yeah
 
Kasim' I mean you are your own person. Do you know what I mean? I’m not a sheep. Do you know what I mean like I don’t consider myself being a sheep like but I think they do have a big part to play in it. I think they do but it’s not like, they didn’t make me do anything that I didn’t want to do. I chose to do it on my own accord so therefore I have to deal with the consequences at the end of the day. So yeah. 
See also: friends, alcohol and drugs.
Last reviewed: July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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