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Bullying and Substance Abuse in Teens: An Unspoken Reality

In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 14% of public schools had registered bullying as a discipline concern, while the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) stated in 2019 that 20% of students aged 12 to 18 had reported being bullied.

7 Minute Read | Published Sep 18 2023 | Updated Feb 12 2024 Expert Verified
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by

Being involved in a bullying situation can have negative psychological implications for a teenager, such as social and emotional challenges. Teen substance use can stem from feelings of social rejection and bullying. According to the CDC, 15% of high school students have used illicit drugs.

This article seeks to disclose the link between bullying and substance abuse, as well as strategies for understanding, identifying, and overcoming this disorder.

A Better Understanding of Teenage Bullying

Adolescents are at a heightened risk of developing mental illness for many reasons, but also as a result of bullying, which is a global epidemic affecting schools and communities everywhere. Bullying takes many forms, including physical aggression, verbal abuse, and cyberbullying. However, it always perpetuates the same harmful cycle that impacts the mental health of individuals involved at any level.

Anxiety, despair, and low self-esteem are just a few of the many mental health issues that can develop as a result of bullying and can lead to substance abuse and self-injury.

What is the link Between Bullying and Substance Abuse?

Social pressure and adaptive mechanisms impact the developmental dynamics of every person during adolescence, a time of profound personal transformation and diverse challenges. While there are many potential causes of substance abuse, one of the most important variables is the influence of one's peers.

Studies in Asia, the Americas, and Europe have found that bullying increases the risk of substance abuse in both victims and perpetrators. Victims of bullying are more likely to consume alcohol and cigarettes, but stronger drugs, including some intravenous ones, are also included nowadays.

Some studies have found a correlation between bullying and substance use, which may help mitigate the psychological damage and feelings of isolation caused by this problem. Victims of bullying who used drugs also reported higher rates of anxiety and a desire to improve their social standing.

Peer rejection can lead to low self-esteem, impulsive actions, a desire for validation, aggression, and co-occurring mental diseases, including anxiety and depression, all of which can affect substance use.

How do you identify bullying and substance abuse?

Some indicators can help you identify whether a teen is a victim or perpetrator of bullying, as well as whether the teen may be struggling with substance abuse. Several indicators warrant your attention, including:

  • Mood swinging: A person may be a victim of bullying or suffering from a mental disorder that could lead to substance misuse if they experience abrupt changes in their mood, such as becoming more introverted, violent, or displaying broadly evident symptoms of sadness and unpleasant emotions.
  • Academic performance: if a teen’s grades suddenly start to fluctuate, it can be a clue that something is wrong with their social life.
  • “OK” Attitude: A potential warning sign is an 'I am ok' attitude, characterized by a flat affect and repetitive responses to various questions.
  • Modifications to the physical or mental state: symptoms of a cognitive alteration such as memory loss, inability to focus, or time or space dissociation may result from trauma or drug misuse.
  • Changing groups of peers: abrupt changes in social circles might warrant further investigation into the teen's behavior.

When observing teenagers' conduct, it is important to consider the person's baseline mood or behavior to spot patterns of change. These warning signals should be seen as guidelines for further research and action.

Strategies to Tackle Bullying and Substance Abuse

The prevention of teenage bullying and substance misuse has been the subject of numerous initiatives. A proactive and multi-dimensional approach is necessary. Important things that you can do at home to support the mental health of teenagers include:

  • Fostering empathy, tolerance, and conflict resolution skills at home is crucial to addressing substance addiction and bullying.
  • Accurate information regarding the dangers of drug and alcohol usage and the effects of bullying must be provided. You should work on promoting awareness among your children about bullying and substance abuse.
  • Encouraging your children to feel comfortable opening up to you about their friends, personal struggles, and desires can be as simple as opening up about your inner thoughts and fears.
  • Instill in them a strong sense of self-worth so that they can avoid peer pressure by developing their standards.
  • Strengthen the family bonds to ensure they have someone to lean on in times of need.
  • Stay away from encouraging destructive substance abuse habits and promote good behavior with your behavior.
  • Physical activity can help alleviate stress from bullying and prevent substance abuse by fostering a sense of calm and well-being.

Bullying and Substance Abuse: Their Impact

Serious psychological effects, like substance misuse, can result from bullying. The effects of substance misuse on adolescent lives can be devastating. The cycle of bullying can become much more vicious when the teen continues to use drugs.

Substance misuse and bullying have far-reaching effects and can lead to a variety of outcomes, including:

  1. Dangers to Physical Health: Abuse of substances can harm one's physical health. Liver damage, heart disease, respiratory problems, neurological disorders, and an increased risk of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis are among the many health concerns that the teen may encounter.
  2. Mental health: substance misuse and mental illness go hand in hand. Many substances can change brain chemistry, which can result in a variety of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and more. Abuse of substances can bring on new mental health problems or make existing ones worse.
  3. Addiction and dependence: People often find it difficult to stop using substances despite knowing the negative effects they have on their health because of the physical and psychological reliance that develops with continued usage.
  4. Social and interpersonal interactions: Substance abuse frequently strains a person's relationships with their loved ones, friends, and coworkers. Some people experience social withdrawal and stop engaging in things they formerly enjoyed. Substance misuse exacerbates already-present feelings of isolation and alienation by fueling arguments, violent behavior at home, and societal shame.
  5. Effects on Education: Substance misuse can impede efforts to further one's education and advance one's profession. Dropping out of high school or university could be the result of a reduction in academic performance.
  6. Instability, strife, and trauma within families are some of the terrible outcomes that can result from substance use.
  7. Death by Overdose: Opioids, benzodiazepines, and other powerful medications provide a significant risk of overdose, which is a major danger of substance usage.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of all of this; therefore, finding a solution is an urgent matter. 

How do you treat someone who uses drugs as a result of being bullied? 

A holistic strategy that incorporates mental health recovery and addiction therapy is necessary to help those who abuse substances as a consequence of bullying. When looking for help, you should focus on a program that would: 

  • To treat the psychological components of addiction and to mend the scars caused by bullying, therapy is necessary in addition to detoxification.
  • Help the drug abuser learn how to control their substance use with the support of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing dysfunctional thought processes; however, recognizing that each person is unique and requires tools specific to their ailments is essential to providing individualized psychotherapy programs.
  • Address the trauma that bullying has caused. Help in processing the events and building coping mechanisms can be achieved through therapeutic therapies, including trauma-focused therapy and counseling. It is critical to establish a compassionate and secure space where people feel comfortable talking freely. Detox, counseling, and rehabilitation programs for substance misuse provide crucial assistance.
  • Get family members involved. This is essential, as they may help with understanding and offer resources for healing. The most important thing is to take a comprehensive approach that deals with substance abuse and bullying from every angle. People can begin the road to recovery from the trauma of bullying and substance misuse with the help of holistic treatment, compassion, and support.

It is important to keep in mind that to address all of the facets of substance misuse as a result of bullying, it is essential to choose a multidisciplinary team.

Finally, yes, they are linked

Substance abuse is one of the mental diseases strongly associated with bullying. Teens who are victims of bullying and who end up abusing substances, as well as their friends and family, suffer greatly as a result of this cycle. Improving the lives of individuals impacted requires immediate and forceful action to prevent the development of substance abuse and other mental illnesses.


bullet CDC
"Preventing Bullying"
Retrieved on January 30, 2024
bullet CDC
"Substance Abuse"
Retrieved on January 30, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"Substance Use among Adolescents Involved in Bullying"
Retrieved on January 30, 2024
bullet ScienceDirect
"Analysis of the relationship between school bullying, cyberbullying, and substance use"
Retrieved on January 30, 2024
bullet Youth.gov
"Warning signs"
Retrieved on January 30, 2024

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