How to Navigate Peer Pressure During Drug Abuse Recovery

One of the biggest influences to our behaviors is our peer group. We are social creatures and most of us require social interaction to flourish. According to renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the need for belongingness and love is essential in order to achieve self-actualization. That said, we thrive by connecting with others. So how does this affect navigating drug abuse recovery?

When we think about peer pressure, we tend to think about it in terms of people being influenced in adolescence. It is a term that is typically associated with behaviors that are not considered socially acceptable. But before we talk about the importance of peers in recovery, let’s first talk about what abuse and recovery mean.

Drug Abuse Recovery &What Does Abuse Mean?

So what does recovery mean when discussing drug abuse? Well in order to tackle the concept of recovery, let’s first understand the abuse part. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual discusses 11 different criteria that help determine substance misuse and abuse. These 11 criteria include:

Take the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.

Want to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.

Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance.

Cravings and urges to use the substance.

Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.

Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.

Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.

Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.

Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.

Need more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).

Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance. (

Based on the number of criteria one meets, determines the severity. Between 2 and 3 criteria may determine mild severity; 4 to 5 criteria met meets moderate severity, and 6 to 11 criteria indicate a severe level.

Along with these criteria, there must be some significant impact or impairment on one’s life that is caused or exacerbated by substance misuse or abuse.

So to put it rather simply, the drug or substance must be causing some impairment, some difficulty managing how much or often it is being used, interfering with one’s daily life, and/or having some physical or mental craving to continue using. To be clear, that is a very simplified definition and each individual may be different in his or her substance use.

What does Recovery Mean?

So now that we discussed a little about what drug, or substance, abuse looks like, let’s talk about what recovery means. Again, this could look differently for many different people. The dictionary definition states that recovery means, “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength” (

The Recovery Research Institute states, “There is no single definition of recovery. Many people interpret recovery to be complete abstinence, while others believe this term is synonymous with remission, and still others associate recovery with quality of life indicators.” To check out how different sources define recovery, check out the website:

Therefore, recovery could mean different things to different people. However, the general consensus seems to indicate that recovery is determined by an improvement in functioning, health, and well-being that is due to abstinence or a decrease in substance use.

So now that we have, maybe, a better understanding of drug abuse and recovery, let’s go back to how peers play a role.

Social Impact on Drug Abuse Recovery

Drug Abuse Recovery

Peer Pressure

Let’s rewind back to talking about peer pressure. As mentioned above, it is generally a term associated with adolescence and of course, this stage of life is when peer influence is most important. We know that in this stage of life teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in with society.

Thus, peer pressure plays a huge role in the use of drugs or alcohol. According to the CDC, the statistics show that “alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are substances most commonly used by adolescents. By 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol. About half of 9th through 12th-grade students reported ever having used marijuana. Among 12th graders, close to 2 in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.”

Peer pressure is not something that just affects teenagers, however. It also plays a role in adults’ lives as well.

The Importance of Belongingness

Human beings are innately social creatures. Most people are hard-wired to want social connections. Experiencing a sense of belongingness can increase self-esteem and overall happiness. Therefore, we tend to seek out any type of social interaction that makes us feel good.

But sometimes we choose the social interactions and belongingness that are not the healthiest for us. We know that we all tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people and this is no exception when engaging in substance use. Those that use substances tend to associate with others who use them as well to foster that sense of belonging and understanding.

In a study done by Pettersen, et al. (2019), they determined that positive relationships were crucial in maintaining long-term sobriety, stating, “These positive relationships involved connecting to others without feeling shame or guilt, having supportive people close, and being cautious regarding with whom to share substance use experiences.”

This also highlights why many successful drug and alcohol treatment programs involve the individual’s social network. And why one of the steps, within the 12 Step philosophies, involves making amends to the people in life that an individual may have wronged.

So let’s now talk about how to navigate peer pressure in recovery and how to establish healthy social connections that foster recovery.

Navigating Peer Pressure in Drug Abuse Recovery

So you’re new to recovery and you’re determined to stick with it. You want a better, more fulfilling life but your whole social group has revolved around other people who use and abuse drugs/alcohol or your “dealer.”

Of course, it is commonly heard that those in recovery say the people in their lives are supportive and even though they “still use”, they “don’t use around me.” This tends not to last though. Here’s an example:

You’re just recently out of treatment for drug abuse and all your old friends have been supportive. They tell you they are proud of you, that they wish they could “be clean”, and they don’t use around you. But after a couple of weeks of this, you have a really difficult day and go to these friends to talk about the cravings and how you hate being clean. Not wanting to see you struggling, your friends offer you “something to just take the edge off”. And that’s it! You forget all about why you wanted to be clean and all the negatives that the user created.

Maybe this story sounds familiar, maybe not. But what is known is that between 40-60% of people who suffer from a substance use disorder relapse within the first year of recovery ( It is also common for those in recovery to identify “people” as triggers. So with these daunting statistics about recovery, what can we do to navigate peer pressure in order to be successful? How do we say “NO!” and mean it?

Well, let’s talk about some steps to take that may be beneficial in maintaining recovery and working through peer pressure.

Steps to navigating peer pressure:

  • Be assertive! Make eye contact and confidently say “no.”
  • Know your triggers! It is best not to place yourself in a situation you know might trigger your desire to use. Therefore, it is extremely important to be aware of all of your triggers.
  • Suggest a different activity if a friend is suggesting using drugs or alcohol.
  • Build a healthy social support network. One of the most commonly used practices in substance use recovery is a self-help meeting. This means AA/NA/12-step of any kind, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery or any other organization that offers social support in recovery.
  • Build confidence and self-worth. This can be done in many ways, including therapy and/or volunteering.
  • Practice gratitude! It has been proven that practicing daily gratitude improves our outlook and overall self-esteem.
  • Explore new, healthy hobbies. Consider what interests you and try new, healthy activities. This can also be a way to engage in positive social interactions.

Peer pressure can be extremely difficult to navigate, at any time, especially during recovery. Therefore, your best defense against negative peer pressure is to establish a sense of belonging in a positive, healthy social network and to increase internal feelings of confidence and self-worth. It is easier for people to say “no” to someone when they have the confidence to be assertive and a supportive network of people to fall back on. Contact Nulife Virtual to know more about drug abuse recovery