Peer pressure is something I used to associate with my middle and high school years. I think most people can relate to having to sit through a session about peer pressure and saying no to substances and sex in some kind of health class or guidance session in their school years. I remember laughing to myself in middle school, thinking it wasn’t ever going to apply to me because I knew better than to say yes just to fit in. Once I started using, It didn’t apply to my life either because nobody had peer pressured me into it. I willingly chose to do so, and enjoyed it at that, so I had never actually worried about peer pressure until I stopped drinking and using drugs.
It has taken me years of back and forth to be able to reach full recovery, and in those years, peer pressure definitely started to impacted my progress. With drinking and substances, it’s particularly difficult because we live in a world where drinking and using are widely accessible and more importantly, very normal. In fact, I think it’s more odd than normal to be abstaining from drinking, so it’s easy to understand why peer pressure can be difficult to manage. Once I had decided I no longer wished to consume alcohol or use substances, I felt like the girl from that middle school health class textbook who had to say no to peer pressure left and right. The textbook made it sound so easy, but in truth it is one of the most challenging things to handle, and still is sometimes. I also realized that it was no longer just people who could peer pressure me, but also environments, situations and my own fear of being the odd ball.
While on my path to recovery, I’ve been able to learn how to navigate peer pressure (what works, what doesn’t work), but I’ve also faced some of my biggest challenges yet. I’ve tried a variety of things, from isolating myself to dropping friends and avoiding social gatherings, to full on putting myself in “bad” situations like a marijuana grow house visit, or an Oktoberfest brunch with friends. Honestly speaking, sometimes going to family dinners with my parents and extended family is the most challenging environment for me because my family drinks abundantly, and I’m always offered alcohol, or asked why I choose not to drink (over and over again). So today I’m sharing what I’ve tried, what works and what doesn’t and some of my best excuses to say no when you’re not feeling courageous enough to say no. These tips also apply to anyone simply looking to cut down on alcohol consumption or substance use 🙂
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to avoid peer pressure is to completely avoid situations at which you know alcohol or substances will be present. The challenge here is that this not only includes parties and get togethers, but often even brunches and/or dinners. It was eye opening to me once I stopped drinking how integrated alcohol is into socializing period. Of course, you can easily avoid the social pressure by doing things other than going to parties and drunches, and instead focusing on activities and socializing without alcohol present.
At the same time, I also felt more isolated than I ever had. Many of my friends’ interests revolved around alcohol (including things like wine-tasting, for example), and few were interested in going to yoga, or sober dance parties, apple picking, going for walks in the park, hikes and the like. But then again, this was easy to understand given that my friends were my friends for a reason. Maybe we had met a club or bonded over a love of drinking and using–I was the one who decided that my interests had changed, and it was quite a 180 from their lifestyle.
This challenge was the greatest gift that recovery gave me because I found myself expanding my interests by spending more time investing in my interests like yoga, art, writing, photography etc. I realized how many ways you can spend your time that don’t involve drinking and partying and made some of my best memories going to pick apples, spending afternoons baking with friends, and even simple things like going for walks in Central Park. I also found friends old and new who shared these interests and were willing to spend time with me doing those things and after a while, even some of my party friends would enjoy joining me from time to time.
If you’re still struggling to navigate peer pressure, take some time away and remove yourself from tough situations until you’re confident enough to stand your ground. I know it’s unrealistic to say you should completely avoid social gatherings, but giving yourself a break to lay down a solid foundation can really have a really meaningful impact on your journey. Once you feel comfortable, you can then dip your toe into uncomfortable situations (we’ll talk about that in a second!). Finally, keep in mind that you will never be able to avoid challenging situations completely because alcohol and substances will make an appearance time and time again, even when you least expect it. Like I said, it’s hard to be sober in a world where drinking and using are the norm.
I’ll admit that I’m an introvert at heart, but I know that not everyone wants to say no to social gatherings point blank. If you’re a social butterfly or prone to feeling FOMO, try joining events and leaving early. Oftentimes, drinking will start a little later into the evening, and you can let the host and friends know you’ll be stopping by to say hi, but will be leaving shortly after. This works best if you have a solid reason to leave and a set time as well. Go into the event making it known that you have to leave by X O’Clock because you have X responsibility the next day or somewhere else to be later that day. The only thing to keep in mind is that you are still going to be putting yourself in danger of peer pressure not only to drink or use, but also to stay longer. Make sure you feel confident leaving when you plan to leave, or have a friend or family member call you at said time to give you an out. If all else fails, schedule something to hold you accountable to leaving early, like a yoga class, a dinner reservation, or plans with others.
We talked challenging situations, but what about challenging friends? If you are someone who used to drink and use a lot, chances are your friends are similar. Birds of a feather flock together, right? Changing your lifestyle doesn’t mean you need to change your friends per se, but if your friends don’t support you and respect your journey, then it may be time to re-evaluate your friendship.
When I started my recovery journey, I lost a lot of friends. Mostly friends who were apparently my friends only when we were drinking or using. Once the substances were removed from the picture, we really didn’t have very much in common and the friendship no longer made sense. This was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to realize that I hadn’t had an actual conversation with some of these “friends”. I didn’t even know their last names, how many siblings they had, or much else about them beyond what their favourite drinks were and where we liked to party together. Your party friends may be the first to go if there’s nothing to your friendship once substances are removed.
This doesn’t mean you should drop your friends left and right. You’ll know who your friends are because there is emotional substance left even after the recreational substances exit the picture. These are the friends you should lean on, and should let know what you’re going through so they are not only aware, but can support you through it. Have a conversation with your friends one-on-one and let them know you are no longer drinking/using, and that you’d appreciate their support. You don’t have to say why, but ask them to spend time with you doing other things. If they continue to peer pressure you after you share with them, then you may need to take a friendship break or re-evaluate because having a solid support system is absolutely one of the best things while you’re on your path to recovery. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are there for you.
This is the most impactful way to manage peer pressure, but also the most difficult. It took me some time to become confident letting people know that I was a recovering addict or alcoholic or to defend my choice not to drink. Shame plays a big role here. It’s hard to admit that you’re struggling, and even more difficult to stand up for yourself when you’re feeling vulnerable. I won’t lie to you–it sucks and it sucks hard, but it starts to suck less the more you do it and it starts become empowering instead.
I was never a confident person and I never liked to put myself in the spotlight. Telling a group of people drinking that, “Hey! I’m actually an alcoholic/addict and I’m recovering now so I won’t be drinking tonight” was my actual nightmare. So how can you build up to that if you’re anything like me? Start small. Tell your closest friend, practice saying it out loud, maybe even practice on strangers. I know, it sounds weird, but I always found it easier to tell people who hadn’t known me before. Next, try sharing this in a public setting where a friend who already knows is present. It’s great to have a cheerleader or someone in your corner.
Almost always, sharing openly and honestly has been the best way to combat peer pressure. It makes it clear that you will not be drinking, with a very valid reason not to. Allowing yourself to be so vulnerable and laying it all out there leaves little room for someone to continue to peer pressure you. And if they did, it would just be very disrespectful. I’ve actually had great conversations with friends who I’ve let know, and more often than not, they will commend me for where I am now.
I think that it’s important to work your way up to honesty, because any other method of saying no leaves room for holes to be poked. That, and choosing not to drink or use is never something you should be ashamed of. Be confident in who you are, and live that truth.
While honesty is the goal, if you need to tell a white lie or two to get you out of hairy situations until you get there, here are some of my favourite excuses to use:
“If you avoid putting yourself in uncomfortable situations you will never be able to experience the growth and strength that is being able to face something that once had power over you”. via Instagram
One of the greatest feelings I’ve experienced on my recovery journey is being able to walk out of a club, a bar, social gathering or other tempting situation without having used or having had one drink. As I mentioned earlier, temptation is everywhere and very accessible, so I personally feel it’s important to put yourself in uncomfortable situations every now and then.
I’ve had a few triumphs this year. The first was at a marijuana grow house in Palm Springs. I was on a press trip, and part of our itinerary was checking out a marijuana grow house. We also arrived to a room full of “treats” awaiting us. Needless to say, temptation was more than accessible. I debated skipping the tour, but after much contemplation, decided to go through with it and grow through it. After the tour had ended, it was the best feeling knowing that I had been able to put myself in a situation like that and still feel secure in my sobriety. I remember calling my boyfriend, feeling so incredibly proud of myself and that experience made future encounters with substances here and there feel like a breeze to manage.
Stay tuned for a full blogpost on this story.
On another occasion, I was at a celebratory dinner, and the host had brought out a very special wine from their home country. By no means was this a rowdy drinking situation. It was tasteful, with wine served with dinner. That being said, the host and most of the attendees I knew did not know me well enough to know that I was sober, and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to enjoy the wine that had been hauled all the way to the US by our host. After much discussion and my going down my list of excuses not to drink, I was encouraged to smell the wine, just take a sip, or taste it on my lips. I ended up being completely honest and sharing that I was sober, and could not have a drink. Yes it was awkward (in my mind at least), but one of the other attendees came to chat with me about her brother who was a recovering alcoholic, and then we had a really insightful conversation with the whole table about alcohol as a social crutch.
I’m not encouraging you to practice walking into alcohol stores or going to clubs as a means of practicing or testing your sobriety and strength, but rather I’m suggesting that because we don’t live in a sober world, and you will absolutely encounter tough situations, finding strength in your uncomfortable experiences can strengthen your confidence and voice.
Peer pressure is something I still encounter today, no matter how outspoken I am and how confident I am in my lifestyle. It’s an ongoing practice, but it becomes easier the more comfortable you become with saying no.
P.S. try not to hold it against those who peer pressure you because sometimes it can happen without people even realizing.
Future topics to come: non-alcoholic drink recipes, how to support a sober friend. Have any suggestions? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Love and light,
*Image by Jasmine Dowling
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Hi there, I’m Remy! Welcome to Veggiekins Blog, home to nourishing vegan + gluten-free recipes and tips to live your best balanced and holistic life. I’m a human on a mission to empower you to be well and be kind to your mind, body and soul with the healing power of plants.
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