October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Did you know that being bullied is correlated with substance use? It’s true. Both bullying and addiction are serious problems with a complex relationship — each influencing the development and severity of the other. Bullying is often both the cause and result of physical, mental, and emotional trauma that can lead to substance use and addiction.
Typically, bullying includes cycles of abuse or patterns in which a tormentor targets the victim. The type of abuse can be physical, verbal, mental, or emotional, or any combination thereof. Although bullying-related suicide is not a new phenomenon, an increasing number of suicides have recently occurred due to bullying.
The act of being bullied breaks down a person’s self-esteem, distorts their self-image, and triggers a host of behavioral and mental conditions. In general, it produces an unstable and stressful environment for the victim. Feelings of anxiety can disrupt the mental state of the victim and cause the stress hormone cortisol to be released in the body. People who have been bullied are more than six times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop mental health issues. More often than not, victims of bullying develop progressive behavioral disorders (such as depression and anxiety) as a result of being harassed. When combined with a victim’s low self-esteem, these conditions can spur experimentation with drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with how helpless they feel.
Bullies are just as likely to use drugs as their victims. The idea is that youth who are aggressive at a young age tend to seek out peers who are also non-rule governed. Teens who bully others are prone to a host of behavioral problems like vandalizing property, poor school performance, and early sexual activity. They are also often apt to try drugs and alcohol long before their peers ever do.
If you know someone who is being bullied and has turned to alcohol and drug use to cope, call L.A. CADA at (562) 906-2676. Our Youth and Family Services division provides free counseling and assistance.