We all like to think we’re uniquely invulnerable to outside influences like peer pressure and advertising. We like to believe we think for ourselves and make our own choices but the truth is that we’re all susceptible to outside influences to various degrees. This is especially true of peer pressure. We’re influenced in both overt and subtle ways by the people we spend our time with. We tend to share expectations, beliefs, and habits with our family members and close friends, and those affect our decisions and behaviors. If you’re recovering from addiction, it’s important to be aware of this influence and how it operates. The following are some tips for coping with negative influences in addiction recovery.
The most important thing is to spend as much time as possible around the right people. These should be people who support your recovery and are positive influences in general. It’s always best to avoid people who might trigger cravings or overtly pressure you to use drugs or alcohol. Drinking buddies and people you used to use drugs with should be off the guest list. However, these aren’t the only people you should be wary of. Anyone who is overly negative, critical, or makes you feel bad about yourself is not going to be a positive influence in your recovery and it’s best to minimize the time you spend with them.
Spending time around positive, supportive people not only shapes your habits when you’re in their company but also when you’re alone. For example, no one wants to go back to their AA group and admit they had a drink. A supportive group can also give you the confidence to know you’re doing the right thing. For example, setting healthy boundaries can be challenging for some people because they never really know whether they are being reasonable. A supportive group can reassure them and make them feel more confident under pressure.
A big part of avoiding negative influences is just a matter of thinking ahead. For example, if there might be drugs at a friend’s birthday party, maybe it’s better not to go. If you might run into certain triggering people somewhere, go somewhere else. Think through situations before you leave the house to see if there are any potential hazards. If you can’t always avoid them, at least they won’t take you by surprise as often.
In addition to peer pressure, we’re influenced by our environment a lot more than we realize. There are things like advertisements that are obviously trying to influence us, but there are many things that influence us in subconscious ways as well. This is one reason smoking has largely disappeared from movies and TV shows. Although they don’t specifically advertise smoking, they imply, almost incidentally, that smoking is normal and even expected. The fact that smoking is not the main focus actually makes it more influential since you aren’t thinking about it consciously. The same is true of depictions of alcohol and drugs. This subtle influence may be intentional or not. That is, you may see product placement in a film or you may just catch a whiff of beer at a baseball game. Both can catch you with your guard down.
Similarly, many of us don’t think about how movies, TV, and sports can increase our stress. We know, rationally, that movies and TV shows aren’t real and that sports outcomes don’t typically affect us in any significant way, but we still can experience them as stressful and they can affect our perception of the world. We can’t avoid environmental influences, but if you are aware of them and aware of how they affect you, you can keep them from having so much influence over your behavior.
Although it’s best to avoid people and situations that might make you feel pressured to drink and use drugs, in reality, it’s not always so easy. This is especially true of alcohol. Since drinking is so common in America, there are probably some people who are great influences in your life who still have a drink now and then. It’s important to have a solid refusal strategy. It’s also important to have practiced it beforehand. Hesitation and equivocation are often taken to mean that you really would like a drink or whatever else is being offered. It’s important to respond with a decisive but polite refusal. You can go with a straightforward “No thank you,” or maybe offer some excuse like, “I’m driving.” Having a non-alcoholic drink in your hand can also buffer against drink offers. If you think through possible situations and how you will respond, you can be ready with a reply and it will be easier to refuse in the moment if you have mentally rehearsed.
Equivocating behavior often results from uncertainty about what’s most important to you. If your values aren’t clear and present in your mind, you start thinking about things like, “Am I being rude?” “Will one drink really matter?” and so on. Research has shown that briefly writing about your highest values and why they matter reinforces your sense of self, giving you a greater sense of personal integrity. This has many positive outcomes, including making healthier choices and having better relationships, both of which support recovery.
Finally, it’s always easier to resist peer pressure if you have even one person backing you up. If you’re going to a gathering where you’re worried about conflict or feeling pressured to use drugs or alcohol, you can always bring a sober friend. They can help keep you accountable and lend moral support.
We’re all more vulnerable to peer pressure and other influences than we like to think but we can limit the effects those have on us by being aware of them, thinking ahead, and enlisting the right kind of social support.
At Hired Power, we know that no one stays sober alone. We offer many services, such as recovery assistants and case management, to help you transition back to normal life after treatment and stay sober long-term. To learn more, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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