How Peer Pressure Can Lead to Alcohol Addiction

Statistics indicate that around 602,391 people in England are dependent on alcohol. 82% of these are not currently in treatment for addiction. Over a quarter of individuals in the country (27%) binge-drink and alcohol-related complications are the biggest cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 29. The British public is known for their binge drinking, to the extent that such behaviour is now considered to be ‘a social and cultural phenomenon.

For many, binge drinking can be controlled – strictly limited to the odd social occasion – for others, excessive alcohol consumption can spiral, leading towards dependency. For this reason, peer pressure – the influence of friends on drinking behaviour – is associated with an increased risk of addiction, particularly among young people.

Understanding the role of peer pressure can help us educate individuals on the harm it can cause to prevent alcohol addiction before it takes hold.

Peer Pressure & Alcohol Addiction

In western society, there are certain social drinking norms that have become ingrained into our culture, especially among young people. This is particularly prominent in specific social circumstances, for example in the context of sports fans, group holidays or amongst university students.
Regular drinking with friends is not unhealthy; in fact, it is very common, with drinking being a popular social pastime. What is unhealthy, however, is when the drinking becomes uncontrollable, excessive (either in terms of frequency or quantity) or driven by social pressures. These pressures are ‘associated with emerging adult substance use’ as well as lower self-esteem and difficulties in various areas of life due to dependence on said substances.
Peer pressure is an insidious for an insidious type of encouragement or persuasion that typically suggests particular consequences (either negative or positive) for engaging with specific behaviours.
There are several types of peer pressure:

  • Direct peer pressure


  • Indirect peer pressure


  • Negative peer pressure


  • Positive peer pressure


Direct peer pressure happens when an individual is directly encouraged to engage in a particular behaviour. This is more likely to happen in a situation where drinking is occurring. This can be through actions (for example, someone may hand someone a drink, convince them to engage in drinking games or introduce shots) or through words (through the suggestion that by not drinking, you are not ‘cool or ‘fun’ or ‘can’t handle it’ etc).

Indirect peer pressure is more subtle. For example, if you overhear someone saying a mutual sober is not fun to be around because they do not drink, you may feel pressured in order to avoid that behaviour so the same is not thought of you. This is peer pressure by association, and is often driven by the fear of exclusion. This can happen in any situation, but often impacts the way we behave in drinking situations.

Negative peer pressure happens when individuals are convinced to engage in something that they do not wish to or that directly goes against their wishes or morals. This can often be the case in big groups when the fear of being the only one not engaging in a certain behaviour, such as drinking, can lead to people behaving in ways that they do not feel comfortable with.

Positive peer pressure involves the influence of someone engaging in productive, mindful, or healthy ways. For example, if a group of students finds that someone within their social group whom they respect is volunteering, they may follow this path and take up a similar position themselves. The group’s ‘leader’ behaviour is generally more positive with positive peer pressure, and influence tends to come from a healthier place.

This means that positive peer pressure can be useful in helping individuals break out of difficult cycles; having a positive role model can reduce the risk of engaging in risky behaviours such as risky drinking in the long term.


The Risks of Peer Pressure: The Mechanisms of Developing Addiction

Gradual Commitment

At the moment, caving to peer pressure may not necessarily feel like that big of a deal. The issue with peer pressure is that it often functions on a level of gradual commitment; the behaviours we feel pressured to engage with increase over time until they become much more risky.

This process has been studied extensively in social psychology and carefully considers the process behind changing behavioural patterns in pressured environments. Research suggests that individuals who are more easily influenced by others are more likely to have lower self-regard and lower levels of confidence.

This indicates that people who are less sure of themselves – including young people, vulnerable individuals and people in new environments such as university – are more likely to be coerced into drinking than more confident peers.


If you have experienced isolation in the past, then you are more likely to act in ways that reduce the risk of this happening again. This can be due to a phenomenon known as rejection sensitivity.

When experiencing rejection sensitivity, individuals are more likely to be driven by ‘social threat’ and, therefore, can be more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviours if others around them are doing so for fear of being deserted by those around them.

Building Patterns of Behaviour

One of the key issues with peer pressure is that it often leads to the development of habits. Drinking is a dangerous habit to build as it can quickly turn into reliance. Alcohol is a stimulant, which means that it activates the brain through dopaminergic processes.

If drinking releases dopamine to make you feel better, you will, over time, begin to associate the feeling of feeling better with alcohol itself. This can, in time, lead to the cycle of addiction: alcohol use, then withdrawal, which is followed by the anticipation or craving to drink again.


Signs of Alcohol Addiction in Young Adults

It can be difficult to identify addiction, particularly in young people, when it can be seen as the norm to drink regularly. However, it is important to be aware of the key signs of alcohol addiction and how these can manifest in particular demographics.

If you are unsure if you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, look out for the following signs:

  • Low mood and withdrawal


  • Quietness, reduced social contact


  • Issues with relationships (family, friends, teachers, and loved ones)


  • Suddenly engaging with a new group of friends


  • Increase in irritability, quick to anger or lose temper


  • Difficulty completing tasks, low motivation and issues with concentration


  • Not being fully truthful, some dishonesty


  • Sudden bursts of energy


  • Becomes more secretive – hiding objects, concealing their activity on their phones or locking doors


  • Leaving the house for extended periods of time, frequently staying out late and not answering contact


  • Struggles with money


  • Reduced attention to appearance and hygiene


  • Tiredness and lethargy


  • Unexplained aches and pains


  • Sickness and nausea


  • Increased anxiety


  • Unexplained changes in weight

Alcohol Rehab: Treating Addiction to Alcohol

Between April 2021 and March 2020, there were 11,326 young adults accessing support for addiction. 80% of these individuals had started using before the age of 15. [13]

At UKAT, we are able to offer support to young people struggling with substances. Our treatment packages can be tailored to specific needs and circumstances. Our expert staff understand these types of experiences are often tough to discuss – we offer non-judgemental and confidential services to support you through this.

Treatment for alcohol addiction typically works in three key phases:

  • Alcohol detox
  • Therapeutic intervention
  • Aftercare

An alcohol detox is essentially a way of helping you through the physical components of addiction. It is typically the first stage of alcohol rehab and allows you to work through difficult withdrawal symptoms early on in order to overcome cravings.

Therapy is the cornerstone of addiction treatment. At our centres we offer a range of therapies to ensure we provide a gold standard of personalised care.


After formal rehab ends, your contact with us will continue. This is because we know that the adjustment post-rehab can be daunting. Based on clinical evidence, we work on the understanding that aftercare (support that takes place after rehab programmes are completed) is essential to the longevity of sober living.

We are proud to offer free aftercare as part of our treatment packages for alcohol addiction.

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you feel that your relationship with alcohol is starting to spiral out of control, you may benefit from professional support. You can receive non-judgmental, confidential advice on dealing with alcohol addiction with UKAT services by contacting our team today. You can also make a referral to access formal support at our London clinic.



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