How Peer Pressure Affects All Ages

Peer pressure is any type of influence, positive or negative, that comes from a peer group. This peer group may be of similar age (e.g., children in the same classroom) but can also be defined by other commonalities, including motherhood, professional affiliations, and your local neighborhood. Peer pressure occurs throughout the lifespan, but learning to cope by building self-confidence and surrounding yourself with positive influences may help prevent problems with peer pressure from arising later.

This article will explain what peer pressure looks like in young adults and teens and how it can affect adults.

Girl feeling peer pressured

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Statistics About Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is more than someone asking you to try drugs or drink alcohol. The following were listed as the top pressures experienced by teens aged 13 to 17 in one study:

  • Academic achievement (61% responded they feel pressure to get strong grades)
  • Looking a certain way (29% felt pressure to look “good”)
  • Fit into social peer groups (28% )
  • Be more involved in extracurriculars and be good at athletics (21%)
  • Drug and alcohol use (4 and 6%, respectively)

Young Adults and Teens

Young adults and teens face similar peer pressure, but gender can affect how these pressures are internalized and expressed. For example, of the 29% of teens who responded they felt peer pressure to look “good,” girls were more likely than boys to say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (35% vs. 23%). 

It Can Affect Adults Too 

Adults are not exempt from facing societal expectations and peer judgment or influence. For example, you may carry the pressure of academic achievement into your career. You may also face challenges like wanting to “keep up with the Jones’” and feel pressure to purchase items you cannot afford to maintain an image that fits into your work, social, or neighborhood environment. 

Examples and Types of Peer Pressure

You can experience peer pressure from people without them saying anything to you, and you can experience it from direct remarks made by others. 

Implicit peer pressure is the subtle type that pulls you into conforming to a social group to increase your chances of acceptance. For example, seeing other people who are considered "cool" drinking at a party.

We hear much more about explicit peer pressure, as it is easier to detect and recognize as problematic. It sounds like someone telling you to stop worrying, start having fun and be part of the group by participating in something you don't feel comfortable with. It may also be a threat, such as, "You can't hang out with us if you're not going to drink."

Is Peer Pressure Always Negative?

Peer pressure is not always negative. Trying to fit into a healthy social group, for example, of peers getting good grades, joining sports teams, and making plans for their futures, is positive. Some refer to this type of peer “pressure” as peer “influence.”

According to Brett Laursen, Ph.D., a fellow of the American Psychological Association whose work focuses on the outcome of children’s interactions with peers and parents, peer influence can occur anytime one peer is more “influential” than the other.

Benefits of Peer Influence 

Peer influence can show you there is support, encouragement, and community available to you. By seeing someone else do something positive, even if it’s challenging, you may reflect on your own life choices, goals, and where you spend your time.

Examples of positive peer influence include:

  • Joining an extracurricular activity or trying a new hobby
  • Challenging and not participating in gossip 
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol 
  • Working to save money for college
  • Going to therapy (solo or couples)
  • Making a career change

Why Young People Are More Susceptible 

Young people may be more susceptible to peer pressure because their identities are still forming; they desire to fit in and not be bullied and have less risk aversion than adults. 

In addition, a combination of other age-related and developmental factors contribute to youth’s increased susceptibility to peer pressure:

  • They may be less averse to risk, loss, and punishment
  • They may be more vulnerable to the effects of reward
  • They favor immediate over delayed prospects


The risks associated with peer pressure may not be immediately obvious or seem like cautionary tales, but they are serious and can have life-altering consequences.

Substance Abuse

Peer pressure to use substances like alcohol and cannabis can unfold into problems with substance abuse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen substance use affects brain development and can contribute to adult health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

In Sexual Situations

Peer pressure can lead a person to engage in sexual activity before they are ready. It may also influence the person to participate in unsafe, risky, or dangerous sexual activities. The consequences may include being exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), developing pregnancy, or having images of yourself posted online without consent.

Mental Health

Being pressured by peers can be a stressful experience, whether it happens in person or online. It may shake your sense of identity and self-confidence and may contribute to excessive worry. In addition, prolonged exposure to this type of stress and tension may be a factor in mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

Rising Above Peer Pressure

Rising above peer pressure means not giving into the pull of others to act in a certain way. No matter your age, you can practice not giving into negative peer pressure and work on surrounding yourself with more positive influences.

Some ways of coping with peer pressure include:

  • Not spending time with people who pressure you to do things that feel wrong or dangerous. 
  • Having difficult conversations, learning to say "no," and practicing leaving situations that feel unsafe or uncomfortable. This may include calling a parent or spouse for support. 
  • Befriending people who resist negative peer pressure and/or who have a positive influence.
  • Talking to a trusted peer or professional (teacher, counselor) if you have problems saying “no” or are feeling pressured to change something about yourself.


Peer pressure is about the influence of others. It can be implicit or explicit, positive or negative. When the pressure is positive, encouraging you to become a better version of yourself, it may be referred to as peer “influence.” While peer influence can improve your life, peer pressure can cause problems. For example, you may feel pressure to do unsafe things that have risks you may not fully know. Resisting peer pressure can involve avoiding it, saying no, and surrounding yourself with more positive influences.

A Word From Verywell 

Peer pressure is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you need to be negatively influenced by it. If you're feeling pressured to do things that may make you feel bad about yourself, consider talking to a trusted person for support. Recognizing when peer pressure is negative and potentially harmful versus when it is positive, and potentially life-enhancing can help you make healthy choices about who you let into your inner circle. If you have made poor choices in the past due to peer pressure, forgive yourself with the intention to do better next time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What helps with confidence when avoiding social pressure?

    Knowing your personal values, the difference between right and wrong, and that you have support from positive influences may help with confidence when avoiding social pressure. Sometimes you may not feel confident in saying no, but the more you practice your personal boundaries, the easier it should become. 

  • Does peer pressure make you a pushover?

    No, peer pressure does not make you a pushover. Peer pressure is difficult to avoid, and giving into it only means you may need to reassess your values and whether or not you have the right kind of support in your life. Shaming yourself or identifying with the pushover role only serves to further break down confidence that may leave you more vulnerable to negative peer pressure. 

  • How does peer pressure affect us on a societal level?

    Peer pressure affects us on a societal level because it can set into motion a series of negative experiences and consequences that alter a person’s story. If a person continues to follow the lead of negative influences, they may be put on a path toward consequences such as substance abuse and risky sexual situations (both of which may have life-altering consequences). 

  • When does peer pressure at school start?

    Peer pressure doesn’t suddenly appear at a certain age. Peer pressure transcends age groups and can begin before the first day of school at daycare, playgroup, and more. Once a child begins seeing themselves as a part of a community, the desire to fit in may occur for better or worse. 

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Peer pressure

  2. Pew Research. Most U.S. teens see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers.

  3. American Psychological Association. Speaking of psychology: the good and bad of peer pressure.

  4. Barbalat G, Domenech P, Vernet M, Fourneret P. Approche neuroéconomique de la prise de risque à l'adolescence [risk-taking in adolescence: a neuroeconomics approach]. Encephale. 2010;36(2):147-54. doi:10.1016/j.encep.2009.06.004

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Why does peer pressure influence teens to try drugs?

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen substance use and risk.

  7. Widman L, Choukas-Bradley S, Helms SW, Prinstein MJ. Adolescent susceptibility to peer influence in sexual situations. J Adolesc Health. 2016;58(3):323-329. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.10.253

  8. American Psychological Association. Stress.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.