Friendly PEERsuasion

Girls Inc. Friendly PEERsuasion®

Helping Girls Avoid Substance Use

By the time girls reach their senior year in high school, 34 percent report periodic heavy drinking. Girls are as much at risk of abusing alcohol and drugs as boys are, and in some cases face more serious health consequences. But because girls are often attracted to drugs and alcohol for different reasons than boys, standard prevention programs can be ineffective. In a 1999 national survey girls cited drinking (29%) and drugs (39%) as two of the most important health issues facing teenagers today. The Friendly PEERsuasion program is a unique response to girls’ needs because it approaches drug-abuse prevention as a peer issue, using the positive influence of young people modeling healthy behavior.


Peer Pressure Girls who use socially “appropriate” drugs like alcohol and tobacco tend to do so in groups; girls who use illegal drugs are more likely to be introduced to them by boys, often while on dates.

Body Image In a culture that too often defines female worth in terms of body size and shape, girls resort to diet pills, cigarettes, and other substances to maintain starvation diets. In a 1997 study, four times as many 12th-grade girls as boys reported taking non-prescription diet pills on a monthly basis.

Media Girls are also bombarded with ads from various media that promote the use of over the counter and prescription medications for common ailments such as headaches, sleeplessness, and depression, promoting a quick-fix approach to solving physical and mental health problems.

Abuse In a 1997 national study, high school girls who reported having been physically or sexually abused were twice as likely as girls who did not report abuse to use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

Stress Girls tend to feel they lack control over their lives. More adolescent girls than boys reported feeling a lot of stress. More girls than boys say that they use cigarettes (66% vs. 49%) and alcohol (38% vs. 27%) to deal with stress.


A successful prevention effort must start early. In a national study, 69 percent of ninth graders had used cigarettes and 74 percent had used alcohol—39 percent by age 13. The Girls Incorporated two-part program trains girls ages 11–14 to advocate for themselves and teaches them how to serve as role models for those who are younger.

PART I: Girls ages 11 through 14 learn decision-making, assertiveness, and communication skills, which include practicing how to walk away from situations where they feel pressured to use alcohol or drugs. Through games, group discussions, and role plays, girls learn about the short-term and long-term effects of substance abuse, begin to recognize media and peer pressure to use drugs, and experience better ways to manage stress.

PART II: The newly trained “PEERsuaders” plan substance-abuse prevention activities for groups of children ages 6 through 10. Looked up to as leaders, the older girls’ commitment to stay drug- and alcohol-free is reinforced.


An independent evaluation showed that Friendly PEERsuasion helped to delay 11- and 12-year-old girls’ use of harmful substances, especially by giving them the skills to leave situations where their peers were using drugs.

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