The term “bullying” includes verbal or written name-calling, teasing, threats, social exclusion, hitting, kicking, or other violent bodily contact. Bullying can have a negative effect on concentration, self-esteem and social relationships in school, promote feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Often bullying has long-term consequences that lead into adulthood and affects one’s entire life.
Self-medication through substance abuse
Commonly, bullied teenagers seek comfort and escape from the difficult situation by turning to alcohol and/or drug abuse. But, youth should feel safe at school, at home and in the community. Everyone should understand that bullying is not a normal part of growing up, nor is it something teens should “get over”. Everyone can help to stop this hurtful behavior, including teachers, parents, coaches, other adults, friends and peers.
So, how can bullied teens with addiction problems be helped?
1. Don’t turn a blind eye
When someone is bullied they are more likely to start abusing substances as a coping mechanism. And, the other way around, substance abuse can lead to becoming a bully. Actually, bullying is one of the root causes for substance abuse. Bullied kids are willing to try anything to escape their own lives.
2. Seek adequate treatment
Bullying can cause emotional, psychological and physical damage. Further, it can lead to depression. When someone is constantly bullied, they might turn to alcohol or drugs thinking it would help their depression. But, actually, substances such as illicit drugs and alcoholic drinks worsen depression. So, treatment for dual diagnosis is needed. This way, the teen’s psychological damages from bullying and physical and mental harm from addiction can be treated.
3. Bystanders are also at risk of substance abuse
Even today, there is still little research discussing bystanders’ connection to substance use. But, some surveys found that being a witness of bullying can lead to future substance abuse problems. Bystanders who observe acts of bullying are experiencing re-victimization and can suffer from anxiety as a result of the actions that happen in front of their eyes. In order to manage their anxiety, they may engage in substance use.
Wondering why? Well, kids are empathic, they may also fear becoming a direct victim of bullying, and there is a certain guilt that comes from their wish to intevene and staying inactive to protect themselves.
Bystanders may also require psychological help in the process of dealing with their anxiety and fears. But, they are usually the first ones witnessing the bullying, and they can be the first ones who speak out and report these behaviors.
4. Bullies need help, too
According to the theory of “Cumulative continuity”, young children who display aggression are later on attracted to similar groups of peers. That environment reinforces the child’s aggressive behavior and can eventually lead to engagement in other deviant behaviors, such as substance abuse, polydrug use, and alcoholism in adolescence and early adulthood.
How can bullies be helped?
Reducing the underlying reasons that cause the antisocial behavior can have great results. This can be done by establishing a positive environment at school and at home. Also, by maintaining a positive child-adult relations and engagement. Establishing clear rules and discipline in regards to which behaviors are acceptable and which-unacceptable. Professional psychiatric help can also be beneficial.
NIDA for TEENS: Bullying hurts the bully too http://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/bullying-hurts-bully-too
NCBI: Victimization from Mental and Physical Bullying and Substance Use in Early Adolescence http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2707251/
StopBullying: What Do Bullying and Youth Substance Use Have in Common? More Than You Might Think http://www.stopbullying.gov/blog/2013/01/29/what-do-bullying-and-youth-substance-use-have-common-more-you-might-think.html