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Talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol.
March 10, 2017

Peer Pressure: How to Effectively Warn Your Teen About Giving In to Drugs and Alcohol

Talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol.While a certain amount of peer pressure is good, some is almost always risky, even dangerous. When teens feel pressured by parents and friends to excel in school, to get good grades, participate in sports and extracurricular activities, this is generally beneficial. Where teens get into trouble is when they are vulnerable to being pressured by their friends to engage in risky, illegal and dangerous activities, including experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

What can parents do? Is there a way to effectively warn your teen and help protect him or her from giving in to drugs and alcohol? Here are some suggestions.


Your teen may not always tell you, but research consistently points out that teens regard their parents as their most important role models. What you do never escapes their radar. It’s almost like they have a sixth sense. If you do something wrong, they pick up on it. Similarly, if you set a good example, eating healthy, exercising regularly, tending to your business, family and interpersonal relations and obligations, this behavior sinks in as well.


If you want your teen to open up to you about what’s going on in his or her life, to let you know any problems or issues they’re experiencing – including pressure they feel from peers to get involved with drugs or alcohol – you need to ensure the home environment is conducive to open and honest communication. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It requires setting aside judgmental attitudes and preconceived notions and allowing your teen to freely discuss anything that concerns them, as well as what they’re interested in doing.

Family discussions don’t always have to be about problems. It’s important that your teen knows you are always there for him or her, that you love them without reservation, are proud of their talents and accomplishments, and that you will support them no matter what. This is one of the strongest tools in the parental playbook to help your teen withstand pressure from peers to drink or do drugs.


You might think what’s right is obvious, but teens need clear guidelines as to acceptable behavior. Never leave this to chance. Be sure to include specific examples of what you consider acceptable behavior, as well as what is off-limits in family rules. Besides talking about alcohol and drugs and insisting on a zero-tolerance rule, other topics can and should include smoking tobacco or other illicit or illegal substances, respecting others’ property, cheating at school, and teenage sex. Remember that teens have a natural inclination to rebel against authority and are most often encouraged by their peers to act out. When you clearly explain, and provide examples of acceptable behavior, your teen has a clearer understanding that can help him or her stand up to peer pressure to go outside the family rules.


As parents, you want your teen to take measured risks, to venture outside their comfort zone to challenge him or herself to try new things. You can help them establish sound and thoughtful decision-making habits by encouraging them to make their own decisions in everyday activities. These include, but are not limited to, deciding when and how to do homework and assigned chores, abiding by curfews and driving limitations, paying attention to limits on use of the Internet, playing videogames, watching TV and using the phone. This ability to make their own decisions is what allows teens to have the strength and courage to say no to their friends who may be pressuring them to engage in risky behavior like drinking and doing drugs.

  • Thoughtful decision-making means being able to analyze all aspects of a potential act in each situation. Encourage your teen to think of various situations where they may be called upon to make a difficult decision that goes against peer consensus. Furthermore, assist your teen in gathering sufficient information about the situation, event or activity involving the decision to be made so that he or she knows there are alternatives to potentially risky behavior.
  • Your teen needs to know the consequences for violating family rules and going along with peer pressure to drink and do drugs. Be sure to talk about things like driving drunk and having an accident where others may be injured or killed, being forced into unwanted sex, overdosing, getting into fights, getting suspended from school, arrested for intoxication or drug use and other infractions.
  • Have a family discussion about the actions your teen can take to avoid succumbing to peer pressure regarding alcohol and drugs, particularly around Spring Break, prom and summer vacation. Examples include sticking with family rules and values, refusing to be around friends who drink and do drugs, and obeying the laws.
  • Your teen may decide not to drink until he or she reaches the legal drinking age of 21. As parents, encourage this decision, but do not force it. It’s also a good idea to encourage the avoidance of nonmedical use of prescription drugs. Sharing or swapping prescription pills among teens has resulted in numerous overdoses and deaths.
  • When you’re confident that your teen has analyzed and identified potential decisions he or she will need to make, listed alternative actions, and formulated his or her own decisions, it is vital to empower their decision-making ability. That’s what effective parenting is all about. Let your teen know he or she has the courage and the ability to refuse to participate when confronted by peers pressuring drinking and drug use.



American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, “Alcohol and Other Drugs.” Retrieved February 20, 2017, “Alcohol and Teens.” Retrieved February 20, 2017

National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol Use.” Retrieved February 20, 2017

National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs.” Retrieved February 20, 2017

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “Commentary: Teen Alcohol Use – Parents Have More Influence Than They Think.” Retrieved February 20, 2017

PsychCentral, “Parents Do Influence Teen Use of Substances.” Retrieved February 20 2017

WebMD, “Teens and Peer Pressure.” Retrieved February 20, 2017