From Sticks and Stones to Substance Misuse: How Bullying Can Lead to Addiction

August 12th is International Youth Day, an opportunity to focus on hardships facing young people. Bullying is a serious, complex, and often devastating issue for youth, with some reports suggesting that 28% of US students in middle school, and 20% of students in grades 9–12. have experienced some form of bullying at school.1 In addition, more than 50% report online bullying, also called “cyberbullying.” 2

You may think the one being bullied suffers the most trauma, however, the effects of bullying can lead to higher risks of drug and alcohol abuse, both for the perpetrator and the victim. 3

What is Bullying?

Bullying is defined as unwanted aggressive behavior by a young person, or group of youths, against another child or adolescent.1 By this definition, the youth involved are not siblings or current romantic partners.1 Bullying typically involves a power imbalance, whether actual or perceived, and either occurs repeatedly or is likely to reoccur.1

Some examples of bullying can include:1

  • Physical, including tripping, slapping, and punching.
  • Verbal, including name-calling and teasing.
  • Relational/social, which involves excluding someone out of a group, or spreading gossip.
  • Destroying the victim’s property.

Bullying can take place in person or through cyberbullying.Regardless of how bullying occurs, those youth who are more likely to be a victim of bullying are female, Caucasian, have uncertainty about their sexuality, or those youth who identify as LGBTQ+.1 Other studies have shown that youth with disabilities or obesity are more likely to be bullied by their peers.4 Certain personality characteristics, such as being insecure or unassertive, can also make a child more vulnerable to bullying.4

Those who bully others tend to score high in levels of aggression and low in having empathy for others, as well as having higher levels of narcissism.4 They may come from homes where there is aggression and violence.5 Oftentimes, these youth are looking to gain status with peers or feel important.5

Bullying and Substance Misuse

There is a greater chance of developing a problem with substance use if a child is a bully or the victim of a bully.3 One theory is that young people who bully often use drugs and alcohol as a way to be seen as “cool” and find increased social status, especially when they are involved with a troubled peer group.6 Children and adolescents who are victims of bullying may turn to substance use as a coping mechanism.3

Signs of Bullying

If you are concerned that your child is the victim of bullying, there are signs of bullying that you can look for. These include: 5

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Poor academic achievement.
  • Suicidal thoughts or gestures.
  • Wanting to stay home from school.
  • Unexplained injuries.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Numerous complaints of stomach aches or headaches.
  • Lost or missing items, such as money, electronics, or personal apparel.
  • Trouble sleeping.

In addition, the signs your child may be a bully can include:5

  • Aggression and frequent fights.
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their behaviors.
  • Having friends who are bullies.
  • Being very worried about being popular with peers.
  • Suddenly show up with money or other items frequently with no real explanation.

It is important to note that bullying is not just a problem for children and adolescents as adults can also be bullied by others, particularly in the workplace.

Adults Bullying at Work

Workplace bullying is common and occurs in several ways. At times, workplace bullying can come directly from an unreasonable supervisor but also can come from peers.7 Sometimes, a boss might yell at a person, humiliate them, or place unreasonable expectations on them.7 Peers can often engage in such behaviors as gossip and isolation of a person to push them out of the group.7

Workplace bullying can result in sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and increased risk of substance use to cope.7

Texas Rehab for Drug or Alcohol Addiction

If you have experienced being bullied at school or work and have subsequently found yourself turning more to the use of drugs or alcohol to cope, help is available. At Greenhouse Treatment Center, we offer compassionate treatment to help you overcome drug or alcohol addiction, in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

If you also are suffering from mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, Greenhouse offers co-occurring disorders treatment, where you can address both your substance use and get treatment for your mental health at the same time.

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