NEWS Mental Health News Bullies May Face Higher Risk of Substance Use in Adulthood By Lo Styx Lo Styx Lo is a freelance journalist focused on mental health, sexual wellness and patient advocacy. She is based in Brooklyn and can be found on the internet @laurenstyx. Learn about our editorial process Updated on March 03, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Rich Scherr Fact checked by Rich Scherr LinkedIn Twitter Rich Scherr is a seasoned journalist who has covered technology, finance, sports, and lifestyle. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print ZzzVuk / Getty Images Key Takeaways Information on the consequences of bullying often focuses on outcomes for victims, rather than the bullies, themselves.A meta-analysis of research on the subject found that children who bully their peers are more likely to drink alcohol or use drugs in adulthood.Childhood trauma is often a root cause of both bullying behavior and substance abuse in adulthood. When we talk about the consequences of childhood and adolescent bullying, we are often referring to the experience of victims. Children who are bullied come away with mental, and sometimes physical, scars that take time and counseling to overcome. To find out, a recent meta-analysis of studies on bullying, published in Pediatrics, examined the connection between bullies and substance use later in life. But what about the perpetrators? What information do we know about the consequences, mentally and physically, for bullies, themselves? The Research Often, studies around bullying focus on outcomes for victims. While this information is vital, the meta-analysis spotlighted research around the bullies themselves. Researchers aimed to explore the connection between peer-bullying perpetration in childhood and adolescence and substance use later in life. Laura Goldstein, LCMFT Likely, someone who bullies in the first place already had high levels of shame and unhealthy coping skills, so they self-soothe by elevating themselves and putting others down. — Laura Goldstein, LCMFT Researchers also discovered that if an individual was a bully during childhood, rather than adolescence, they were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco in adulthood. The reasoning here is that adolescent bullying could be a "strategic and functional" behavior within social hierarchies of peer groups, rather than a response that could be linked to negative outcomes. For more insight into behaviors at the time of bullying, one study focused on the connection between bullying and substance use during adolescence. Researchers found specific differences between boys and girls. For example, daily alcohol consumption and smoking was more common in boys who bully their peers, while the use of cannabis and hard drugs was more common in girls who bully their peers. What they found was that bullies face a high risk of substance use in adulthood. Compared with non-bullying peers, children and adolescents that act as bullies have a higher risk of alcohol, drug and tobacco use later in life. Bullying and Mental Health Marriage and family therapist Laura Goldstein, LCMFT, is careful to conclude that the relationship between peer-bullying perpetration and substance use in adulthood is less causal and more correlative. "If someone feels shameful about their bullying behaviors, among other things, I could see them turning to substances," Goldstein says. "Likely, someone who bullies in the first place already had high levels of shame and unhealthy coping skills, so they self-soothe by elevating themselves and putting others down." Brooke Aymes, LCSW, LCADC Bullying is typically a result of learned behaviors. — Brooke Aymes, LCSW, LCADC Research on this shows that bullying perpetration is associated with not only low self-esteem, but also depression, suicidal ideation, psychosomatic problems, and violence. This indicates that there might be greater pain happening under the surface, and while bullying behavior should never be condoned, it can, perhaps, be explained. "Bullying is typically a result of learned behaviors," says drug and alcohol counselor Brooke Aymes, LCSW, LCADC. "The adolescent behaving as the bully is most likely being bullied themselves, suffering from low self-esteem and hiding behind defense mechanisms to protect themselves." Aymes points to neglect, abuse of any kind, and household dysfunction as common examples that can cause attachment issues and low self-esteem. And these are the kinds of adverse childhood experiences that are linked to both adolescent bullying and substance abuse. Beyond the idea of this common denominator, an adult individual often will recreate, knowingly or unknowingly, the same type of environment they experienced during childhood. "People who bully often come from very invalidating households, and the same is true for people who turn to substances and the validating community that is substance abusers," Goldstein says. Seeking Treatment By addressing childhood trauma, it's possible to find the root cause of an individual's negative behavior like bullying others or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Laura Goldstein, LCMFT People who bully often come from very invalidating households, and the same is true for people who turn to substances and the validating community that is substance abusers. — Laura Goldstein, LCMFT It's important that therapists and mental health experts connect these dots, says Boris MacKey, a recovery advocate working at an addiction rehabilitation facility in the U.K. "The implications of this for psychiatrists and therapists is to just be aware and to try to build these factors into a personalized treatment plan," MacKey says. "We make sure of evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help give people the tools to cope with the underlying mental causes of addiction without turning to drugs and alcohol." What This Means For You If you recognize your behavior as a response to childhood trauma, know that you are not alone. But you need not continue to struggle through it. Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of, and addressing adverse events through counseling can help you overcome it. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Vrijen C, Wiertsema M, Ackermans M, van der Ploeg R, Kretschmer T. Childhood and adolescent bullying perpetration and later substance use: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2021:e2020034751. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-034751 Luukkonen A, Riala K, Hakko H, Räsänen P. Bullying behaviour and substance abuse among underage psychiatric inpatient adolescents. European Psychiatry. 2010;25(7):382-389. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2009.12.002 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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