How to Navigate Peer Pressure

It’s normal to want to fit in, be accepted and feel a part of the group. So when you stumble into a situation where there’s peer pressure, it can be difficult to navigate, especially when the pressure is indirect (e.g. You saw a friend try a drug and you feel curious about it or you’re at a party where everyone is drinking and you have FOMO).

When you are with people who share the same values, beliefs and preferences as you, peer pressure isn’t often an issue. But in college, you’re surrounded by people who are different from you, so it’s likely that peer pressure will creep up at least once during your academic career. In some instances, you’ll know exactly how to respond. In others, you might feel confused or unsure. When this happens, reflect on what is important to you: your values and who you want to be.

Here are our tips for responding to peer pressure:

  1. Know the norms. When it comes to pressure around alcohol or drug use, know that most students overestimate the number of people who drink or use. For example, in 2016, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students surveyed by the American College Health Association perceived about 93 percent of students had a drink within the last 30 days when, in reality, only 60 percent drank. Knowing that alcohol, drug use and “hooking up” isn’t as common as people perceive can help you better resist the pressure that “everyone is doing it.”
  2. Consider the pros and cons. You’re finally away from home and family and have the freedom to make your own decisions. Before you start to establish your own identity, consider what will happen based on how you act. Are there potential consequences and how could those affect your goals?
  3. Be selective with whom you spend your time. Give yourself permission to avoid people and situations that make you uncomfortable. Don’t waste your time with people who won’t respect your decisions or pressure you to do something you don’t want to do. As difficult as it may be, remember that you can’t please or be liked by everyone, and that is OK!
  4. Plan a response. Practice saying “No thanks” or simply “No.” If that response makes you uncomfortable, try “Thanks, but I can’t” or “Not today.” If you aren’t sure how to respond, delay your answer with “Let me think about it” or “Check back with me later” until you have time to make a thoughtful decision. If the truth is too challenging to say, it’s OK to make up an excuse. For example, when you don’t want a drink someone has offered you and you don’t want to say “No,” try “I have to work early tomorrow” or “I’m on medication, so I can’t.”
  5. Remove yourself from the situation. If you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, don’t be afraid to leave the conversation, the friend, the party, etc.
  6. Speak up. If you notice another person being peer pressured, stepping in to help can show your support and send a message that peer pressure is not OK. If you can’t directly confront them, invite the person being pressured to get away from the situation (e.g., “Let’s go get some water” or “Let’s go outside and take a selfie”).

Nebraska Medicine – University Health Center is here for you, whether it’s helping you navigate peer pressure, address your alcohol and other drug use and more. Visit our website for additional information or call 402.472.5000 to make an appointment.


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