Can Bullying Lead to Drug Abuse? Yes!

Sadly, there is a strong connection between bullying and drug dependence. Knowing how to stop the cycle will help save children from falling prey to addiction. Here’s what parents need to know about bullying and drug dependence.

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What Every Parent Should Know

Bullying is a major topic in the news today, and the influence of technology has caused what used to be a schoolyard problem to turn into one that sends shockwaves through the world. Now that photos and videos can be shared online within a matter of seconds, kids are exposed to the negative effects of having their worst moments shared with a wider audience.

Unfortunately, bullying is a serious threat to every child, and the effects can be so subtle at first that they can escape an adult’s notice. It is also possible for a single instance of bullying to negatively impact a child for the rest of their life, if they do not receive proper help from supportive adults and peers.

More here on how to stop the cycle. In this article, we review what parents need to know about bullying and drug use. Then, we invite your questions in the comments section at the end.

Bullying Erodes a Child’s Self-Esteem

Everyone knows that being bullied makes a kid feel bad, but adults sometimes overlook the significant damage that is done with even a single verbal assault. Bullies often have a unique knack for finding a victim’s weak spots, and they will use this vulnerability to increase the power of their behavior.

For example, a bully may constantly insult a child’s physical appearance. For a child who already lacks confidence, this can reinforce negative thought patterns and destroy their self-esteem. Parents also sometimes believe that their child is too confident to fall for a bully’s insults. However, repeated assaults chip away at even the strongest child’s confidence until they begin to question their self-worth.

Drugs Become a Crutch for Children In Emotional Pain

Teens often lack the coping skills that they need to let taunts or threats go. This is why telling a teenager to just ignore someone’s bullying behavior never works. When a teen is exposed to constant threats, it is normal for them to feel negative emotions, such as depression, anger and even guilt.

In time, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to mask their pain.

Parents must also be aware that drug abuse can happen with prescription medications if a teenager decides to take them incorrectly to achieve a desired effect. For example, a teen that is prescribed pain medications for a sports injury could take more than the recommended dosage in an attempt to zone out and escape from the taunts at school.

A Desire to Fit in Leaves Kids Vulnerable to Negative Peer Influences

Kids who are bullied still feel the need to connect with other children their age. Unfortunately, poor self-esteem and a desire to fit in can cause kids to make poor choices when it comes to making friends. A bullied child may also seek friendships with kids that they believe can help protect them from harm in their community.

Often, these negative peers introduce teens to drugs and alcohol as a way to appear tough and deal with emotional pain.

Helping kids break away from negative peer influences is a major component of treatment programs for teens experiencing a drug problem.

The Signs of a Problem Are Often Subtle

Parents mistakenly think that they will recognize drug use in their home right away. However, teenagers are remarkably stealthy with their activities, and it is possible for them to hide drugs in their room or on their clothing without adults noticing. The effects of bullying are also sometimes attributed to other things such as a parent simply thinking that their child is just shy when they begin to withdraw from social activities.

As a parent, it is important to never assume that you know the reason for your child’s behavior.

Instead, establish an open line of communication between you and your child so that you can talk to them about difficult topics, such as bullying and drugs. Having an open line of communication will increase the chances of your child coming to you for help and advice if they are being bullied. If you notice signs of bullying or drug addiction, or something does not seem right, consider arranging for a professional counseling evaluation.

Bullies Are Also At Risk for Drug Dependence

While it is essential to place most of the attention on the victims of bullying, adults should also be alert for signs of drug dependence in the bullies.

This is because children who engage in bullying behavior often struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges that place them at risk for developing a substance use problem

For instance, a teen that lives in a home with domestic violence may act out their aggression on a vulnerable child at school. Yet, they may still come home and try to use drugs or alcohol to escape from the painful events that they witness in their family life. This is one of the reasons why treating the underlying causes of bullying is so important for promoting better emotional health for everyone that is involved.

Adults Have the Power to Stop It

Sadly, some adults choose to turn a blind eye to bullying. It is also possible to miss incidents of bullying since many now take place online. What actions can YOU take?

  1. Parents must monitor their children’s online activities and look for signs of bullying.
  2. Educators can also watch for bullying at schools and during extracurricular activities so that it can be stopped right away.
  3. Many schools have also adopted anonymous reporting systems for kids to use when they witness a situation that causes them to feel concerned.

The bottom line is this: take reports of bullying seriously. Recognition and action are essential to stopping the cycle of drug use and bullying.

Recovery is Possible for Every Child

When drug use problems are linked to bullying, it is critical to address all of the emotional and physical needs of the child who is involved. At first, this process may be met with resistance, especially if a child has tried to hide that they were being bullied out of embarrassment. However, most kids quickly adapt to treatment programs that focus on helping teens to recover their self-esteem while learning strategies that enable them to overcome addiction. For best results, kids should participate in a well-rounded program that encourages family involvement along with individual counseling sessions that allow them to readjust to sober living.

In Conclusion

Bullying does far more than just make a kid feel left out. The constant threat of verbal and physical assaults eventually leads teens to seek out potentially dangerous activities as coping mechanisms. Although bullying exists in almost every community, it is possible for adults to take action so that teens feel safe talking about their experiences before poor self-esteem and feelings of isolation lead them to experiment with substance abuse.

Any Questions?

Do you have questions or experience with bullies? Is your child struggling with feeling targeted? Please leave us your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly!

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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