The use of psychoactive substances that distort cognitive perceptions of reality is a serious problem for personal health and public safety. When an individual takes such drugs, he or she develops a sustained physical and emotional dependence, making it extremely difficult to withdraw from consistent encouragement. The systematic use of psychoactive substances affects not only a person’s physical health but also their emotional well-being. When addiction develops, the individual’s consciousness is held hostage to metabolic processes that make the individual constantly crave a new dose (Dalley and Ersche 1). As a consequence, anxiety, and aggression develop, paranoia is formed, and the perception of reality is distorted. This problem is particularly acute among adolescents as one of the most vulnerable and ready to discover new facets of life.
The development of attachments to substance use is particularly sensitive for adolescents for two reasons at once. First, adolescence is a period in life when an individual’s personality undergoes one of the most serious socialization and actually builds into a complete person (Gil-Hernández and Gracia 586). Any interference with the construction of personality at this stage has the potential to make critical changes; as a result, the person growing up may have a propensity to use drugs for the rest of his or her life. Secondly, and most interestingly in this paper, adolescents tend to be extremely dependent on their environment. Peer pressure can have both positive and negative effects on personal development. If an adolescent’s environment actively promotes substance use for a variety of reasons, it increases the likelihood that the individual will join this lifestyle because of herd behavior. This paper critically examines the phenomenon of peer pressure for an adolescent in terms of substance use. A particular focus of the piece is on adolescents from low-income neighborhoods, where the use of such substances is traditionally higher.
Standardly, psychoactive substances are defined as any medication that results in a change in mental state. The effects of such substances on the mind can be either weak and temporary or solid and systematic, depending on what the individual has been using. Teferra reports that substance use is a serious clinical problem that has plagued humanity since ancient times (265). This is not surprising when one considers the effects of such drugs — distorted perceptions and feelings of euphoria provide pleasure, which is why the use of such substances has a long history. Some authors tend to define the phenomenon of psychoactive addictions in terms of dopamine theory, where a stable system is built up in the individual’s brain (Dalley and Ersche 1). Specifically, drug use creates feelings of euphoria and intoxication, which reinforce the production of dopamine as the pleasure hormone. When using drugs systemically, the individual’s body needs constant encouragement of dopamine systems, and having attachments to drugs perfectly covers this need; in other words, the longer an individual uses drugs, the harder it is to break this metabolic cycle.
By now, the number of psychoactive substances is very high, which creates an additional problem for vulnerable social groups. The classic drugs of choice are alcohol and nicotine, drugs that are relatively easy to obtain. However, psychoactive substances also include marijuana, cocaine, opiates, ecstasy and methamphetamine, and LSD. In addition, some authors tend to view caffeine as another drug since systemic coffee use also causes the development of coffee addiction — nevertheless, coffee will not be considered a psychoactive substance for the purposes of this paper (Dowling 134). The availability of such a wide range of drugs poses a problem for adolescents because it provides them with destructive choices. In this context, it is of particular interest to examine the reasons why adolescents become addicted to drugs.
The situation is particularly acute for those adolescents who find themselves socially vulnerable. The choice of Hispanic teens in this paper is not accidental because they are a representative group potentially prone to poverty. Research reports that these children are more likely than whites to be below the poverty line, to lack equal ethnic opportunity, and to suffer from gaps in education and access to health care (Despres). Consequently, focusing on this particular group allows us to examine the impact of peer pressure on initially socially vulnerable groups in order to identify common patterns.
It should be understood that low-income families tend to have severe child attention deficits. The authors report that children in low-income families lack parental attention and care compared to more affluent families (Kalil and Ryan 29). Among other things, this leads to problems of school humiliation and bullying toward these children because they are vulnerable (Peterman 1303). Thus, the average Hispanic adolescent in this paper should be taken to mean a child from a low-income family who does not have significant financial tools for development.
For adolescents from any social group, it should be emphasized that the underlying motivators in their lives are usually social rewards. A teenager may seek rewards and praise from parents or teachers, but it is often peer recognition that is most valuable. Individuals of all ages tend to be guided by a system of balancing rewards and risks to make choices when making decisions. If the risks are much more significant than the rewards derived from it, then the individual will abandon the decision. However, in the case of adolescents, it should be borne in mind that individuals at this age do not fully appreciate their responsibility and cannot perceive risks objectively. Such adolescents like to take risks and stand out among the crowd with their own non-conformism — drug use ideally allows them to achieve this. In this context, it is necessary to cite a study that acknowledges that having peer-viewers increases a teenage driver’s desire for risk-taking (Tian et al. 373). These findings can also be extrapolated to substance use and suggest that having peers in a risk-taking environment increases the likelihood of adolescent substance use.
Sense of Commitment to the Group
The problem of destructive pressure is particularly acute for those children who do not have the capacity to confront peers emotionally. In an attempt to gain their trust and demonstrate their belonging to their group, vulnerable Hispanic teens may engage in reckless acts, including drug use. If the group of those teens who are pressuring the individual is themselves drinking and using drugs, for the Hispanic child, this may reflect the only way to gain social acceptance is to do the same thing as them. In this context, it is essential to emphasize that adolescent environments are different, which means that the influence of close adolescent friends and adolescent strangers may not be the same. In fact, research shows that an adolescent is more likely to take drugs among close friends than at large parties with many unfamiliar peers (Muldoon). From this, it may be concluded that it is crucial for a vulnerable adolescent to recognize those with whom he or she interacts most often. These may be close friends or classmates, so being attentive to precisely who the adolescent is friends with is an essential parenting task.
The aforementioned factors lead to a deeper reflection on what motivates adolescents to start taking drugs as a result of peer influence. This aspect should be considered from a psychological point of view: groups of adolescents are often formed according to a unifying criterion. They may be in the same class, in the same group of friends, or together in extracurricular activities — in any of these cases, the importance of group cohesion proves to be strong. In such conditions, an individual often loses his or her own individuality and begins to behave in a herd-like manner in order to conform to the behavior of the company (Awo et al. 53). For example, if drug use is prevalent in a social group, it is very likely that the Hispanic adolescent will choose to do the same because it will increase his own perception of peer commitment. Such an adolescent may come from the understanding that if he or she refuses to drink or take drugs, he or she will be kicked out of the group and become an outcast. Understandably, for the Hispanic teenager, having been parentally neglected, this is the most traumatic experience, so the individual tends to choose the destructive but relationship-retaining route.
Vulnerability to drug use may also be related to adolescents’ low awareness of these issues. Hispanic adolescents have been shown to suffer from more learning gaps due to a lack of equal opportunity compared to white peers (Kalil and Ryan 29). This can be used by peers to mislead deliberately. For example, these adolescents may not fully disclose the presence of side effects or hide some of the information that may be disadvantageous to their drug use. As a consequence, Hispanic adolescents have incomplete information and cannot make objective decisions because their understanding of substance use is distorted. Similar studies have been published on physically vulnerable adolescents who lacked awareness of e-cigarette use, which may have caused their use (Cowgill et al. 15). In other words, a lack of truthful information in synthesis with peer pressure plays an important role in the decision to use drugs.
Relationships as an Environment
In terms of the social effects of pressure, the impact of negative relationships should also be considered. As it is known, it is not uncommon for individuals to start loving relationships with their peers during adolescence, as this becomes a vital socialization tool. However, statistics report that teenage relationships rarely last long, with an average duration of only 1.8 years for 15- to 18-year-olds (Kabić). As a consequence of broken relationships, adolescents may enter into depressive states and despair. One of the stimulants of such a state becomes the use of drugs, substances that allow the adolescent to escapism from the reality in which he or she is experiencing trauma (Szkody, Rogers, and McKinney 2639). If one revisits the thesis that for Hispanic adolescents who are experiencing problems with adequate socialization, the breakup of relationships is extremely traumatic, then this argument proves to be appropriate. Thus, peer pressure from this perspective means the experience of negative relationships for which drugs can be a destructive solution.
The economic factor can also be considered in light of peer pressure. Average Hispanic teens are poorer compared to their white peers, so economic motivators may play a significant role for them. In particular, wealthier classmates may bribe a Hispanic teenager to take a risky action if the price for that action is a reward. For example, a peer group might get such a teenager to use a drug and pay him money to do so. From the Hispanic individual’s perspective, this action allows him or her to receive a reward. From the perspective of a group of adolescents, investing in such behavior allows them to cover their need for entertainment and risk-taking, not their experience, which further protects them. As a consequence of systematic acts of this behavior, the Hispanic adolescent may develop a physiological need for drugs.
Emotional trauma should be a significant consideration in the decision to use substances. One common reason to turn to psychoactive drugs is to experience severe anxiety and panic, depression, and despair (Turney and Goodsell 151). In reality, drugs cannot solve these problems, but they do help the adolescent escape from the reality in which he or she lives. This works incredibly effectively if the adolescent’s environment proves to be traumatic and destructive. Teens are notoriously prone to bullying and humiliation while in school. For Hispanic adolescents, such psychological abuse is expected because they differ linguistically and culturally (Peterman 1303). In addition, these adolescents typically come from poorer backgrounds, which can also cause ridicule from their peers. Experiencing such traumatic experiences can be devastating to the adequate socialization of a Hispanic adolescent’s identity so that they may turn to psychoactive substances for help. The use of alcohol or hard drugs will short-term help the adolescent escape from the problems in the school environment; it will not solve them in a constructive way.
To summarize, it is paramount to note that substance use is a serious problem for both a teenager’s personal health and public safety. Adolescents often use drugs for a variety of reasons; this age is associated with a desire to discover new aspects of life and try new things. Drug use is a particularly acute problem for Hispanic adolescents, as they are a socially and economically vulnerable group. Peer pressure in light of the factors mentioned above has been shown to play a key role in the decision to use drugs and alcohol. Specific effects of such pressure include a sense of commitment to the group, experience of damaging relationships and emotional trauma, a desire to earn money, and a perceived lack of information. Pressure proves to be an effective tool for forcing a Hispanic adolescent to use drugs because it is usually motivated by low socioeconomic family status, gaps in education and access to health care, and more often than not, a lack of acceptable parenting as compared to white adolescents. Thus, it has been shown that adolescent peer pressure is an essential component in the decision to use drugs and alcohol among Spanish-speaking adolescents for a number of reasons.
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