Why Bullying Can Lead to Substance Abuse: A School-Aged Problem with Lifelong Effects

With television shows like “13 Reasons Why” and the tragic reports of teen suicide due to cyberbullying, the issue of bullying has been brought into the spotlight, and for good reason: Bullying is a major problem in our nation’s schools.

According to recent statistics, 1 in 4 students experience bullying before they graduate from high school, making this issue more prevalent than many parents and school administrators realize.

While bullying is behavior that typically occurs with children and teenagers, it has devastating long-term effects for all those involved.

In order to explain why bullying has such a dramatic effect on our children, it’s important we first understand what bullying really is.

Bullying and Substance Abuse

What is Bullying?

There are three types of bullying: Verbal, Social, and Physical.

1. Verbal Bullying

Verbal bullying is mean behavior directed at an individual through words, either spoken or written. This form of bullying has become even more prevalent with the rise of the internet, as cyberbullying affects 15% of high school students each year.

Verbal bullying includes:

  • Name calling
  • Verbal sexual harassment
  • Threats of physical harm
  • Teasing

2. Social Bullying

Social bullying is the intentional destruction of a person’s social life or relationships. 55% of those surveyed for a study in the UK reported experiencing social bullying.

Social bullying includes:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose and encouraging others to do the same
  • Damaging someone’s reputation
  • Spreading rumors and gossiping
  • Publicly embarrassing someone

3. Physical Bullying

Physical bullying is hurting someone or their belongings. This type of bullying is slightly more common in boys than girls, with 6% and 4% reporting physical bullying, respectively.

Physical bullying includes:

  • Hitting/kicking
  • Pushing/tripping
  • Stealing or breaking someone’s possessions
  • Spitting

While many parents brush off some of these behaviors as typical for children and teenagers, there is a major distinction between school-aged squabbles and bullying. Bullying is often one-sided and leaves the victim feeling helpless and incredibly lonely. Here’s how to recognize the difference:

Characteristics of Bullying

  • The same person is repeatedly targeted
  • The behavior is intended to hurt, embarrass, or intimidate the victim

The actions occur in a situation with a real or perceived power imbalance (i.e. unequal strength or social standing)

Characteristics and Effects of Bullying

The Effects of Bullying

With all we know about the importance of connection, it should come as no surprise that bullying has devastating effects on those who are targeted.

But did you know that bullying also takes a toll on bullies themselves?

Further still, those who witness bullying may also experience negative effects as they are more prone to substance abuse, depression, and missing school.

How Bullying Affects the Bullied

Those who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, withdraw from social activities, and perform poorly academically.

Many lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and experience changes in their sleeping and eating patterns.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these issues to carry into adulthood long after the bullying stops.

Common Symptoms of Being Bullied:

  • Social isolation
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Higher risk of illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor school performance
  • Bedwetting
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Feelings of shame
  • Insomnia

How Bullying Affects the Bully

While it may be difficult to empathize with a bully and feel concerned for their wellbeing, it’s important to remember that bullying often stems from other issues that should be taken seriously and treated as quickly as possible.

If ignored, this behavior may make them more prone for substance abuse, criminal convictions, and domestic abuse.

Common Symptoms Faced by a Bully:

  • Avoiding school
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Poor school performance

Because bullying is a widespread issue with such traumatic effects, it’s crucial that parents and school faculty pay close attention to the signs of bullying and support initiatives such as Bullying Prevention Month.

Symptoms of Being Bullied

Why We Care

While it is true that bullying is a universal issue that affects everyone, we feel especially connected to the anti-bullying cause as there is a known link between bullying and addiction.

As bullying destroys self-esteem and interferes with connection, victims are at risk of turning to drugs and alcohol to numb these difficult feelings.

On the other hand, those who bully often spend time with equally aggressive people, making them more apt to experiment with substances at an earlier age.

At Alo House, it is our mission to uplift our clients, rebuild self-worth, and foster connection.

Throughout treatment, we strive to treat the underlying issues that lead to addiction, not just the addiction itself.

We understand that negative experiences often play a role in the development of substance use disorders, and our trained therapists work with our clients to unbury these painful roots in order treat addiction at its source, giving them the greatest chance for recovery.

For more information about how you can support the cause against bullying, visit stopbullying.gov to see how you can get involved.

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We believe trust, meaningful connections, and kindness are the essentials to beginning a journey in recovery. We are dedicated to providing an honest, authentic, and genuine treatment environment that gives our clients a unique opportunity for healing.

Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.