Do you remember growing up and wanting to be liked and included in your peer group? One of the hardest parts of growing up is feeling excluded from peer groups and while this can be challenging, it is also a normal part of the development of an Emerging Adult. If it did not come naturally, you might remember changing your attitudes, values or behaviors to belong a certain peer group, which is exactly where your Emerging Adult may be developmentally. Something that young adults may do to fit into a certain peer group is use drugs and alcohol as a means to fit in. You can help them avoid drug or alcohol abuse and the risk of addiction by teaching useful skills for handling peer pressure and maneuvering this critical period of life.
Peer pressure comes from feeling bad saying “no” to a friend’s request. It can be one of the biggest pitfalls for Emerging Adults when it comes to alcohol and drug use and addiction. Well-intended kids may make poor decisions that can result in serious consequences.
The best approach for you and your young adult is to have a game plan on how to manage peer pressure. The more often you communicate about the challenges of peer pressure, the more effectively he/she will be able to respond and make healthy decisions. Here are 3 ways to limit addiction risk in young adults:
1) Encourage involvement in school or community activities
If your young adult is not connected with peers and friends in positive ways, there is a greater risk of them feeling lonely and struggling with peer pressure. As a result, there is a increased chance of forming, and enduring, unhealthy relationships if there are not many other options.
You can help by focusing on your Emerging Adult’s strengths and interests. Help identify what they love and where those passions intersect with school, work or community activities. Encourage attending informational meetings about those activities or introduce them to students or adults who lead those activities.
Coach them on how to get involved and reinforce behavior that is a step in the right direction. Participating in these activities will provide greater self-confidence and more connectedness. Then, if your Emerging Adult encounters negative peer pressure, he or she will be less likely to succumb to it. Although Emerging Adults are between the ages of 18-28, the support and knowledge coming from an adult who is their senior is always helpful. This can be a parent, aunt, uncle, older cousin, grandparent, parent’s friend, etc.
2) Teach coping skills to deal with stress
As we have written previously, stress is common for Emerging Adults as they manage academic course loads or new jobs, take on more responsibilities and develop peer and intimate relationships. In fact, with all the changes occurring for Emerging Adults, this is perhaps the most stressful time they will ever experience. If your young adult has not fully developed skills for effectively coping with stress, there is a greater risk that drugs or alcohol will be used as a means to cope with the inevitable stress. When peers use, or offer use of drugs or alcohol, it may be tempting for your young adult to also use in order to unwind, relax, forget about problems, fit in, or feel better so it is important to talk about strategies to manage stress - it will help down the road.
3) Teach healthy assertiveness
An excellent way to help your Emerging Adult navigate peer pressure is to enhance their assertiveness skills, which will help define, and defend personal boundaries. Confidence is important along with open and honest communication empowers them to state their desires, beliefs and boundaries without feeling compelled to conform to others. Once on the path of healthy assertiveness, the Emerging Adult will begin to feel more confident and will gain respect from peers. Most importantly, they will be prepared to be true to their own personal values and avoid peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.
Here is a five-step approach for healthy assertiveness you can practice:
1) Identify a specific event involving drugs or alcohol that called for an assertive response.
2) Determine what personal right was involved (i.e., the right to say “no”).
3) Process how your young adult responded. What was said?
4) Reinforce what was done well in the situation.
5) Discuss what can be done next time to be assertive if that situation is repeated.
Teaching Emerging Adults certain skills that are useful in social situations involving drugs or alcohol helps them avoid poor decisions and dangerous situations when parents are not present.
Peer pressure is a normal part of Emerging Adult development. While peer pressure can be positive, there are many instances where peer pressure has put Emerging Adults at greater risk of using drugs and alcohol. You can help them by encouraging involvement in activities, teaching tools how to manage stress and honing assertiveness skills. With your help, your Emerging Adult can avoid succumbing to peer pressure to abuse drugs or alcohol.
In the event your child does struggle with addiction, or appears to be abusing drugs or alcohol, intervene early. Know the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction and be prepared to act - early intervention and treatment are critical to helping your Emerging Adult succeed in life. If you know of a young adult who needs help with their use of drugs and alcohol, please Contact New Hope Recovery Center at 773-883-3916 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Mark O'Brien MS, LCPC Program Coordinator of Emerging Adult Program
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