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One of the largest tenets of drug abuse in high schools and colleges is the idea that students are being corralled into trying opioids for the first time due to fellow peers pushing them into it—in a word: peer pressure. Many of us remember the videos screened in health classes, or the ads on television, telling us to “Just Say ‘No’”, the idea being that you’re saying this to the popular kid, bully, or even close friend who one day offers you a chance to be a part of the “cool crowd.” It’s always been a go-to point for educators and parents, one that very well might change once you take a look at some of the most recent studies on the subject. One out of Purdue University, for example, led to researchers advising that education officials not focus on the idea of ‘peer pressure’ so much as on the presence of the peers themselves.

To put it simply, evidence suggests it is not a student’s peers who are convincing them to pick up that blunt, but the teen’s own desire to emulate those peers.

Co-author of the study Brian Kelly, a professor of sociology and anthropology who studies drug use and youth cultures, says via MedIndia:

With the 18-29 age group, we may be spending unnecessary effort working a peer pressure angle in prevention and intervention efforts. That does not appear to be an issue for this age group. Rather, we found more subtle components of the peer context as influential. These include peer drug associations, peers as points of drug access, and the motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have pleasant times with friends.

The study in question was conducted via survey interviews taken in 2011-2013 by over 400 adults, aged 18-29, who misused prescription drugs in the past 90 days. An additional 200-plus in-person interviews, conducted at popular New York nightlife locations such as bars, clubs, and lounges (where the interviewee was recruited, usually on-the-spot), were also looked at. Common misuse of prescription drugs and opioids sat on an average of 38 times in the past 90 days. The former’s misuse has been on the rise here in the 21st century, and is the third most abused after alcohol and marijuana.

There were three factors by which researchers looked at the interview data: the frequency of misuse, administering drugs in ways other than swallowing (such as sniffing, smoking, and injection), and symptoms of dependency on prescription drugs

In all three cases, the result was positive. Kelly tells us:

We found that peer drug associations are positively associated with all three outcomes. If there are high perceived social benefits or low perceived social consequences within the peer network, they are more likely to lead to a greater frequency of misuse, as well as a greater use of non-oral methods of administration and a greater likelihood of displaying symptoms of dependence. The motivation to misuse prescription drugs to have a good time with friends is also associated with all three outcomes. The number of sources of drugs in their peer group also matters, which is notable since sharing prescription drugs is common among these young adults.”

We can probably agree that these findings don’t necessitate a complete dismissal of the idea that peer pressure exists, at the very least not in K-12 (18 is the average graduating age for a high school senior in the U.S.), but once again we are seeing a confirmation that it is, ultimately, we ourselves who make the mistakes we make—there’s no passing the buck, no one else to blame. The question now is… what are we going to do about it?

Tell us what you think.