The Connection Between Bullying and Substance Abuse

Researchers have discovered a connection between bullying and substance abuse (1). Higher rates of substance abuse have been found within both bullying perpetrators and bullying victims. While bullying doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, it has the potential to cause real damage, both physically and psychologically. Studies published in the School Psychology Quarterly report also support the connection between bullying and substance abuse, noting that the risk factors for substance abuse and bullying often overlap.

Common risk factors for bullying and bully victimization may include social difficulties, mental health issues, negative community influences, and academic problems. The same risk factors also exist for substance abuse.

There are a number of mental health disorders and conditions that can be associated with bullying behaviors, both for victims and perpetrators. These include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Bullying Victims

Many victims of bullying behaviors are at risk of developing symptoms of depression or becoming withdrawn from family, friends and social situations. If a pre-existing condition already exists, the victim may experience worsened symptoms. However, some victims may develop mental health issues as a result of being bullied by others, including behavioral problems, mood disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

Those who have been bullied by others  are also  more likely to develop a range of issues that might include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep problems, isolation and loneliness. There is also a link between increased school dropout rates and being bullied by others. Research suggests that some victims may attempt to relieve stress or cope with symptoms of isolation, anxiety or depression by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol (2).

According to the National Institution on Drug Abuse, data indicates that a person living with a mood disorder such as depression is twice as likely to abuse substances as compared to a person who doesn’t have a mood disorder.

There are some recognized factors that could potentially increase a person’s risk of being bullied. People who are perceived as being different from the norm have an increased risk of being bullied by others. Differences may include having different ethnicity, having lower socio-economic status, being overweight or underweight, or being new to a school or workplace.

Evidence shows that people with low self-esteem and those with social difficulties or few friends are more likely to become bullying victims. LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities are also at higher risk of being bullied.

Bullying Perpetrators

The connection between bullying and substance abuse may be more pronounced in bullying perpetrators. Research indicates that bullies tend to have higher rates of substance abuse that may be one part of a cluster of other problem behaviors.

People who bully others may have low self-esteem and poor self-image, which can lead them to bullying others in an effort to feel more powerful. Other bullies may feel as though they have a level of social power already and seek to dominate others to reinforce their social standing. In essence, the bully feels the need to put others down so that he or she feels more powerful by comparison.

Many bullies tend to display aggressive behaviors and are more likely to exhibit rule-breaking behaviors. Studies (1) suggest that the connection between bullying and substance abuse could be increased with bullying perpetrators. It’s believed they may seek to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an effort to cope with the same underlying mental health problems that cause them to act out.

Bullying perpetrators are also more likely to seek out and associate with peers who display or who reinforce or support their aggressive behaviors.

The bullying and substance abuse statistics aren’t definitive as they relate to each other in terms of whether one causes the other or not. However, there are studies verifying the potential effects of bullying and substance abuse statistics further verify the dramatic increase in the number of children and teens using drugs and alcohol.

Social Media and Cyberbullying

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) conducted a study (3) confirming that teens who spent time on social networking sites were up to 5 times more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs.

Spending time each week watching suggestive teen TV programs also significantly increases the likelihood of using substances. The study also indicates that teens who have been victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to abuse substances.

Spending a lot of time on social media sites also exposes teens to cyberbullying. Bullies may use the opportunity to bully others by posting mean, vindictive or embarrassing things about those they want to intimidate.  In an online environment where peer feedback and interaction is valued, bullying victims may feel as though cyberbullying is more intrusive and more hurtful than in-person bullying, as the behaviors can happen while they are at home in a safe environment.

Yet 89% of parents surveyed did not believe that sites like Facebook, SnapChat or Instagram would make their child use drugs or drink alcohol.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.