Numerous studies have established a relationship between bullying, psychological health and substance abuse. Research isn’t conclusive, and bullying doesn’t affect everyone the same way. But it’s a major health problem with serious consequences.

“In terms of perpetrators, bullies themselves, there seems to be a connection between engaging in bullying and using or abusing substances,” Crothers said. “The idea is that children who are aggressive at a young age tend to seek out peers who are also non-rule governed.

“That peer environment that they seek out seems to reinforce the child’s aggression and the propensity to engage in other deviant behaviors, which may include substance use and then potentially using multiple drugs in late adolescence and into adulthood.”

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It is less clear whether being bullied causes people to engage in substance abuse. One theory suggests that alcohol and other drug use is a way to cope with bullying victimization. Victims might use drugs to self-medicate symptoms of depression or anxiety that developed after being bullied. Bullies may use drugs to cope with the same mental health issues that caused them to act out.

“In terms of perpetrators, bullies themselves, there seems to be a connection between engaging in bullying and using or abusing substances. The idea is that children who are aggressive at a young age tend to seek out peers who are also non-rule governed.“

— LAURA CROTHERS

Studies also support the notion that aggressive behavior and substance use co-occur because each behavior is an attempt to cope with peer rejection. An extensive review of literature published in 2010 in School Psychology Quarterly supported the notion that risk factors for bullying and substance abuse overlap. Risk factors for bullying and bully victimization, such as social difficulties, negative community influences and academic struggles, are also risk factors for substance abuse.