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Drinking With Friends: How To Avoid Peer Pressure When You Cut Back

June 19, 2023
6 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 19, 2023
6 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 19, 2023
6 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 19, 2023
6 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 19, 2023
6 min read

Alcohol often finds its way into the picture when we’re painting the town red with our pals. But what happens when we decide to cut back on the booze, or maybe quit entirely? It's no easy feat, especially when faced with social situations involving alcohol. Here's a bit of encouragement, some scientific insight, and a few tricks of the trade to help you stay on your path, even when the party's in full swing.

A Peek Into Peer Pressure

To start, it’s worth acknowledging that peer pressure is very real. Contrary to popular belief, peer pressure isn't just a teenage phenomenon. As a 2020 BMC Public Health study showed, it follows us into adulthood, sneakily shaping our choices and behaviors, especially when it comes to alcohol. Likewise, a 2019 survey of UK drinkers found that more than 30% of the participants reported drinking more than they intended because of pressure, and more than half wished there was less pressure around alcohol. For those of us figuring out how to control drinking without quitting, peer pressure can be a major barrier.

Just imagine: a hard day at work, a casual after-hours drink, and a colleague cheerfully insisting "One more won't hurt!" But why does this happen? Here are some of the most common reasons people tend to experience peer pressure around alcohol:

  • Humans are social creatures. We humans, social creatures to the core, are wired to fit into our “tribes.” Research reveals that adult drinking habits are strongly influenced by perceptions of what is “normal” within our social circles, a phenomenon known as “social modeling.” If the gang’s toasting to Tequila Tuesday, our brains often decide it's the path of least resistance to join in. 

    Moreover, because we tend to hang out with people whose lifestyles are similar to our own, it’s only natural that someone who was drinking heavily in the past and is now trying to cut down has friends who did — and are still doing — the same. 
  • Cutting back can serve as an unwanted “mirror” for others. Some people might pressure others to drink as a way to justify or normalize their own drinking habits. This phenomenon is rooted in cognitive dissonance — the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values, or performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, values, or personal norms. These people are made uncomfortable by our changed drinking habits, and they want to alleviate that discomfort by changing our habits back to “normal.”
  • Cultural norms around alcohol can contribute to pressure. In some societies, drinking alcohol is deeply intertwined with cultural rituals and celebrations. The pressure to participate in these traditions may lead individuals to consume alcohol even when they might not otherwise choose to do so. For example, a 2015 study in Drug and Alcohol Review found that cultural expectations around drinking in Finland was a contributing factor to peer pressure regarding alcohol.

Your Life, Your Choices

So, how do we arm ourselves against this invisible foe when we're aiming to cut back on alcohol? We certainly don’t want to avoid social gatherings entirely — that’s neither fun nor practical. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re wondering how to cut back or stop drinking on your own, we’re here to remind you that you can still have friends even if you change your relationship with alcohol. Here are some proven strategies:

  • Be Prepared: Have Your Responses Ready. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that participants who were “primed” with information regarding social norms and the human tendency to fit in were more likely to follow through with their intentions to drink less in a social setting. Moreover, having prepared responses can significantly decrease the influence of peer pressure. When asked if you'd like a drink, a simple "I'm driving tonight" or "I'm cutting back for a bit" should suffice. More often than not, friends respect our decisions, especially when we communicate our boundaries clearly.
  • Non-Alcoholic Options: Your Secret Weapon. Non-alcoholic beverages are on the rise! A 2023 survey by NCS showed that one in four Americans have heard about the sober curious movement, and over a third reported that they’re trying to drink less in 2023.

    As a result, sales of non-alcoholic beverages are on the rise. And these aren't the bland, tasteless options of yesteryear. Today, we have artisanal non-alcoholic craft beers, sophisticated alcohol-free wines, and even spirit substitutes. Holding a drink that looks like it could be alcoholic reduces the likelihood of being offered another drink.
  • The Buddy System: Find a Friend. If we can find a friend who's also avoiding or cutting back on alcohol, the alcohol-free socializing can be much less daunting. Having a support system is significantly associated with successful behavior change. So consider bringing a non-drinking buddy along for the next pub crawl.
  • Mindfulness: More Powerful Than You Think. A study in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology showed that even “ultra-brief” mindfulness exercises lasting as little as 11 minutes led to a decrease in alcohol consumption. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our drinking habits and the influences on our decisions, allowing us to make choices that align with our goals. Even a quick breathing exercise before walking into a social gathering can ground us and provide the focus we need.
  • Combine Socializing With Exercise. Instead of traditional bar meetups, why not opt for activities that combine socializing with exercise, like hiking, cycling, or a yoga class? Not only do these options naturally sidestep alcohol, but they're also great for our physical and mental health.
  • Get Curious. Finally, try to approach the process of cutting back from a perspective of exploration and curiosity. Instead of worrying about what you might be missing out on, look at this process as a discovery of your authentic self on a journey to a more fulfilling life. In the words of writer Suzy Kessem, “Stay true to yourself. An original is worth more than a copy.”

Choose Your Adventure

It’s vital to remember that cutting back on alcohol isn't about going from 100 to 0 instantly. It's about making conscious decisions that suit our lifestyles and our health. Studies show that gradual reductions in alcohol intake are more sustainable in the long run than abrupt changes.

As we take on this journey of reduced drinking, it’s okay to have setbacks. The point is to keep trying and to keep learning about ourselves and our patterns. Cutting back on alcohol doesn't mean we have to cut back on fun! It just means we're choosing a different way to enjoy ourselves, one that's healthier and more sustainable.

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol? Try Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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