Bullying is a concept we are all familiar with. We each experience bullying at some point in life, to one extent or another. Even those who become bullies have often been bullied at some point. Technology and social media have created a whole new breed of cyberbullying, and too many people don’t take bullying very seriously. When you look at bullying statistics, the impact can lead to other real issues, including substance abuse and addiction.
To be a Bully
Firstly, let us look at what it is to be a bully. The title is typically described as the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate, typically to force someone to do what one wants. The site stopbullying.gov defines it as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves real or perceived power imbalance. This behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time. It also concludes that both those who are bullied and those who bully often have serious, lasting problems.
Bullying statistics show three categories of behavior:
1. Verbal Bullying
This type of bullying is about the things we say or write. Verbal bullying includes:
- Inappropriate sexual comments
2. Social Bullying
This involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
- Leaving someone out on purpose
- Telling other children not to be friends with someone
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Embarrassing someone in public
3. Physical Bullying
Physical Bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. It includes:
- Taking or breaking someone’s things
- Making mean or rude hand gestures
Sadly, the prevalence of bullying often convinces people that it is just a rite of passage. A lot of people don’t take the issue seriously enough. Adults often justify the behavior as a sign of immaturity, without realizing the genuine harm that comes from it.
The Impact of Bullying
Being bullied can lead to many other adversities in life, including physical violence and mental health problems.
Because both behaviors are so common, it is difficult to correlate bullying and substance use. When looking at addiction and bullying statistics, according to 2016 Monitoring the Future survey:
- More than 17% of children have tried drugs by 8th grade
- Almost 50% have used illicit drugs by senior year in high school
- Childhood alcohol use rates are even higher
According to the CDC’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
- 20% of American high schoolers have been bullied in school in the past year
- More than 15% have been bullied electronically in the past year
Bullying can erode a child’s self-esteem. It can deplete their confidence, even for those who parents may believe are confident enough to endure a bully. Over time, they learn to question their self-worth. If a bully targets a specific attribute of the individual, they may begin to obsess over it.Some bullying statistics show that those who have been bullied are six times more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues. It is extremely common for victims of bullying to develop progressive behavioral disorders such as:
Over time, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to ease the pain. Also, the desire to fit in and feel accepted can lead a child using drugs to connect with people. Several studies show the risk factors for psychological health problems, substance abuse, and bullying statistics often overlap.
Similarity in Symptoms
When we look closer at bullying statistics and at the warning signs of substance abuse, we find that the symptoms are extremely similar.
Common Symptoms of Bullying
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits
- Eating disorders
- Poor performance in school or work
- Loss of interest in activities
- Alcohol or drug use
Common Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
- Mood swings
- Poor performance in school or work
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Health problems
Looking at some of the more general warning signs we can see how many are present concerning both issues.
Substances and Bullying Statistics
Ultimately, drugs can become a crutch for numbing the emotional pain of being bullied. While it is harder to predict whether being the victim of bullying will lead to substance abuse, with bullies there is also a very real risk of developing issues with drug use and addiction.
Bullying statistics often show that bullies themselves typically suffer from a variety of emotional and behavioral challenges. Sometimes a child lives in a home with domestic violence, and so they become aggressive with their peers to expel their frustration. Yet, they may still use drugs or alcohol to escape the painful life at home. Even the act of bullying itself is typically an indication of diminished self-worth, and just like with the victims, that lack of self-worth can lead them to use drugs.
Some even believe bullying could be comparable to an addiction itself. Some psychologists compare bullying to other ‘process addictions’ like gambling, overworking or shopping. While we do not recognize bullying as an addiction, many believe the comparison could be helpful to address the issue.
Compassion and Care
Whether or not someone is a victim or bullying, or has been a bully themselves, we all deserve respect and compassion. When it comes to providing care for those who struggle with substance use disorder, it should always be a priority to help people develop healthy coping skills, while gaining self-worth. As people struggle to deal with emotional and behavioral challenges, there should be resources there to help guide them toward personal development. Not just getting off of substances, but also to empower them as an individual.
One issue we have with facing bullying head-on is that people typically think of a “bully” as someone inherently bad. However, life is not so simple. A child who bullies isn’t a bad child, they are just interacting with their world in an unhealthy and aggressive way. They still deserve understanding and support.
We commonly see the same stigma with people struggling with addiction. Too often they are labeled as “bad” people, but the truth is that they are just dealing with things in a self-destructive and unhealthy way. Dealing with substance use disorder and with bullying means meeting it with love and care, not judgment and punishment.
Perhaps if focus more on supporting people, we have a better chance of changing addiction and bullying statistics for the betterment of everyone.