Substance abuse and bullying linked

Substance abuse and bullying linked 

By Rachel O'Rourke

Playground bullies are more likely to use mind-altering substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a new report.

Experts at Ohio State University in America have found that high-school students (aged 13 to 16) who are both perpetrators and bully victims used intoxicating substances, suggesting that one “deviant” behaviour may be linked to the other.

“For example,” said lead author of the study and assistant professor of school psychology at the university, Kisha Radliff, “youth who bully other might be more likely to also try substance use. The reverse could also be true in that youth who use substances might be more likely to bully others.”

The researchers, however, did not find as strong a link between victims of bullying and substance usage.

The study was conducted by Radliff and her team, which included Joe Wheaton, associate professor in Special Education, and was published in the Addictive Behaviours journal.

It was formed from a survey of 74,247 students, across a range of public, private and Catholic high schools in Ohio, USA.

The survey comprised 152 questions asking students things such as how often they lie, how often they spread false rumours, how often they had tried to make someone else feel afraid or hurt and how often they were the victims of such actions. In addition there were questions specific to the use of cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol.

Results from the survey showed about 30% of students were bullies or bully victims and around 32% reported alcohol use, 14% smoked cigarettes and 16% marijuana. In addition, 13.3% of those not involved in bullying were marijuana users – compared to 31.7% of bullies, 29.2% of bully-victims, and 16.6 % of victims.

But the percentages tell only part of the story, Radliff said. The researchers also used a statistical analysis that showed that bullies and bully-victims had much higher than expected levels of substance use.

"That suggests there is a relationship between experimenting with substances and engaging in bullying behaviour," she said.

It is hoped that the results will lead to measures to improve anti-bullying initiatives, adding: "Many schools are mandating anti-bullying programs and policies, and we think they need to take this opportunity to address other forms of deviant behavior, such as substance use.”

"If we can intervene with bullies [in earlier years], we may be able to help them before they start experimenting with substance use.”

According to NHS Research, 46% of school children in the UK reported having been bullied during their school lives. Organisations such as Anti-Bullying Alliance and Childline exist to help sufferers of bullying and are free to use.

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