Bullying and Substance Abuse: How Are They Connected?

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Substance abuse and addiction can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Their relationships, physical health, and emotional well-being can suffer the effects of addiction. They may face devastating legal consequences or deep financial trouble that follows them for years.

Addiction is a complex condition. There are many reasons someone may begin to abuse drugs or alcohol and many factors that contribute to developing an addiction. Certain mental aspects of a person’s mental health, genetics, or environment may make it more likely for them to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

People who study addiction are interested in the possible connection between bullying and substance abuse. Being bullied–or bullying others–is believed to be linked to higher rates of substance abuse and addiction.

The more we understand the link between bullying and addiction, the better we can understand and treat the numerous causes of addiction. If you or someone you love requires addiction treatment, reach out to the staff at New Jersey Addiction Intervention today.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is a part of life for many people while they are growing up. Most people experience bullying–or bullying others–at some point in their life. When people hear the term, they may imagine a powerful person picking on a weaker one.

This imbalance of power is essential to bullying. Bullying is defined as repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior. It can be physical, mental, or social. Bullying occurs when a larger, more important, or more powerful person acts aggressively towards someone with less power.

Bullying does not always involve obvious aggression. It sometimes involves one person undermining another or withholding something from them. To be considered bullying, the behavior must meet the following criteria:

  • The action must be intentional
  • There is a power imbalance involved
  • The action is aggressive–meaning intended to intimidate or cause damage
  • The behavior is repeated

Some common forms of bullying include:

  • Lying or spreading rumors about another person
  • Excluding someone from activities
  • Name-calling or teasing
  • Physical aggression or assaults
  • Threats or coercion

All forms of bullying have the potential to cause long-lasting trauma or harm to a person’s well-being.

The Link Between Bullying and Substance Abuse

While many can be quick to dismiss bullying as simply a part of growing up, the effects of bullying can be profound and long-lasting.

Research suggests that substance abuse and experimentation are high among children and adolescents.[1]

  • 17% had tried an illicit drug by 8th grade
  • 50% had tried an illicit drug by senior year
  • 29% of 12th graders admitted to binge drinking
  • 2.3 million adolescents between 12-17 report drinking alcohol monthly
  • 11% of all alcohol is consumed by 12-20-year-olds

Substance abuse is a serious issue amongst adolescents in the United States. Many risk factors make it more likely for someone to engage in substance abuse, including:

  • Mental health issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • History of trauma
  • Family history of substance abuse

It is difficult to determine a direct link between bullying and substance abuse. However, addiction specialists know that people with chronic stress, a history of trauma, and low self-worth are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than the general population. Experiencing bullying can lead to trauma, increased stress, and poor self-image. People may use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the anxiety and emotional discomfort that comes from being bullied.

People may also use drugs or alcohol to fit in with peers who abuse substances or due to peer pressure. This may be common in adolescents, teens, and young adults.

Some evidence supports the theory that bullies may abuse substances at a higher rate than others.[2] People with a history of trauma, including physical abuse, are more likely to bully others and are at higher risk of substance abuse.

What Are the Effects of Bullying and Addiction?

Bullying and addiction are complex issues. When a person uses substances to self-medicate the trauma of being bullied, they may be at increased risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol. People who experience trauma, emotional pain, or abuse are more likely to abuse substances and bully others. There is some overlap between the risks and consequences of bullying and addiction. Both may be used as coping mechanisms to deal with stress, trauma, social anxiety, academic problems, and other significant challenges.

Bullying and addiction can lead to isolation, worsening mental and physical health, and severe social harm. People living with substance abuse and addiction must seek the treatment they need to overcome the condition and embrace a healthy, sober lifestyle.

Comprehensive addiction treatment does not simply treat the physical aspects of addiction. Instead, people in treatment learn the skills they need to cope with stress and emotional discomfort. Doing this allows people to increase their self-worth, form healthy relationships, and avoid relapse in the future.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you love needs information on bullying and addiction or want to learn more about our substance abuse treatment programs, reach out to the New Jersey Addiction Intervention staff today.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5487445/

Medically Reviewed: June 14, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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