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The Link Between Bullying and Substance Abuse in Teenage Girls

bullying and drug abuse

At least one in five high school students have been bullied, harassed, or victimized by their peers. More than 13 million kids are bullied in the United States each year. If your child is being bullied, you are not alone.

Bullying, like substance abuse, is an ongoing epidemic. For the majority of teens today, bullying is more prevalent (and more damaging) than racism, HIV/AIDS, or the pressure to have sex. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, bullying is as significant a problem as the pressure to use drugs or alcohol.

At the surface, substance abuse and bullying appear to be very distinct in nature. However, recent studies have indicated that the two actually intertwine. Bullying victimization significantly increases the risk for substance abuse in adolescents. This is especially true amongst teenage girls.

Bullying, whether physical, social, verbal, or cyber, has long been linked to issues with self-worth. Victims of bullying, both boys and girls, are proven to be at elevated risk for loneliness, depression, and suicide. From earlier articles, we have also learned that depression and addiction are closely related. In fact, nearly one-third of individuals with depression has a co-existing substance use disorder at some point in time. The link between bullying and substance abuse, when considering these facts, starts to become clear. Bullying causes depression. Depression causes substance abuse.

A Science Daily article revealed that adolescent girls are highly likely to engage in substance use as a result of bullying-related depression. Some are using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, to ease their anxieties and escape from reality. Others are initiating drug or alcohol use as a means to enhance their social image. They want to look “cool” among their peers, gain popularity, and improve their previously diminished self-worth.

Bullying can come in many forms. While adolescent boys are typically bullied through physical violence, teenage girls are more likely to be harassed indirectly (via gossip, being excluded from social circles) or cyberbullied (through social media or the internet).

Most bullying today comes in the latter forms, putting young girls more at risk for bullying than ever before. In 2013, about 21 percent of school-age kids were physically bullied in the last year. More than 50 percent of these students were verbally or relationally bullied, meaning that they were deliberately tormented through mocking, teasing, rumors, gossip, or even socially excluded altogether. This type of bullying is done either directly (in-person) or indirectly (over the internet).

The truth is, bullying is growing alongside technology in the lives of adolescents. The increased access to social media, forums, online chats, cellphones and tablets is enabling teens to make fun of one another. The anonymity of the internet or a text message allows them to hide behind a screen, as they post something mean about one of their classmates. The problem is, these cyberbullies do not know what is happening on the other end of the line.

Inherently, females are at a higher risk of depression. While 10 percent of males experience depression to some degree, 25 percent of females report depressive symptoms. When you add bullying into the mix, that is when troubles begin to stir. For young girls especially, bullying severely interferes with relationship development, mental health, and personal well-being. It disrupts their sense of self. They start to look for outlets, for relief, for ways to get back at their bullies.

Some result to drugs. Some female victims become the bullies themselves. Thus, the vicious cycle continues. Bullied victims become bullies, who then create more victims, who then create more bullies. Bullying causes teen drug use, which causes more bullying, which then causes more substance abuse.

It is time we stop the cycle. If you believe your daughter is a victim of bullying, take it seriously. Take note of her behaviors, and see if she is exhibiting depressive symptoms. Talk to her about her friends and experience at school. Most of all, do all that you can to keep her mentality in a healthy state. Educate her about the effects of bullying and substance abuse. If you believe your daughter is using drugs or alcohol, seek help as soon as possible. Do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 with any questions regarding your daughter’s substance abuse problem. To learn about our trauma-informed care, visit our drug rehab for women