Bullying; Mistreatment of Others Results in Depression & Drug Abuse for Both Aggressor & Victim
One of the primary needs of human beings is feeling connected to one another and part of a bigger meaning in life. To deprive someone of that need has consequences, especially when you’re not only depriving them but rather, making them feel isolated and rejected.
A recent California-based study has found that peer victimization leads to this isolation, making the individual feel like an outcast and alone, which may be just the right recipe for a life of drug use.
What is peer victimization?
Peer victimization is defined as the act of intentional aggression carried out by a peer or group of peers with a perceived position of strength or authority towards someone who is perceived as weak. Victims do not necessarily have to play a role in provoking the aggressor. The latter’s goal is to inflict damage on the victim’s status and/or social relationships. This happens over a period of time, significantly decreasing the victim’s well-being and comprises a pattern of aggressive behavior on the part of the aggressor.
Types of victimization
There are two types of victimization according to the aggressor’s behavior: overt (direct) and relational (indirect/social) aggression.
Overt victimization is the systematic verbal or physical aggression of a stronger child towards a weaker one. The aggression can be exhibited through calling of names, extortion, hitting, threatening, and sexual harassment. Boys who see physical aggression as more hurtful are more likely to be involved in this type.
Relational victimization is the intentional and damaging manipulation of peers or social relationships. This is manifested in the spreading of false or embarrassing stories, slandering, and manipulating relationships. Girls are seen to be more likely involved in this type of aggression as they view it as more hurtful.
Types of Victims
According to a study by Stephen Brock and Meagan O’Malley on the Nature and Consequences of Peer Victimization, there are two types of victims: the aggressive and non-aggressive victims.
Aggressive victims are those that stir others by offending, irritating and teasing them anytime they want to. These are the ones often described to be unruly, hard-headed and they find ways to get even, when attacked.
Non-aggressive victims are those that are passive and are commonly facing behavior problems such as emotional distress and loneliness. They are described as submissive and unassertive, making it easier for aggressors to damage their well-being. They comprise of the majority of peer victims.
In the school setting, it is essential to realize the factors that put students at risk for peer victimization. In the same study by Brock and O’Malley, it was found that students who exhibit withdrawn-internalizing behavior problems in grade school have higher chances of rejection and peer victimization in junior high school.
How is Peer Victimization associated with Drug Use?
According to a study by Dr. Valerie Earnshaw, published in the journal of Pediatrics, fifth graders who were victims of peer victimization had greater chances of substance use when they reached 10th grade. These substances include alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Symptoms of depression were also found to explain the link between peer victimization and drug use.
Although Earnshaw’s study does not prove a causal relationship between depression and substance use, it does associate a person’s experiences and future behaviors. The findings were similar for both male and female.
In a study by Laura Crothers in the relationship between bullying and drug use, perpetrators were found to be more likely to engage in drug use than their victims. The idea behind the formation of peer groups that carry out peer victimization is that aggressors at a young age tend to make friends with peers who also have little to no regard for rules. The environment then reinforces the child’s aggression as well as the likelihood of engaging in other deviant behaviors such as substance use and multiple drugs in late adolescence and adulthood.
In terms of the victims, it is unclear why they engage in substance use. However, it is theorized that substance abuse is a coping mechanism for the victims. Drugs might be used to self-medicate depressive symptoms or anxiety after being bullied.
According to Earnshaw, children who experienced peer victimization in their fifth grade reported depressive symptoms during their seventh grade which were linked to the propensity of substance use such as alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco once reaching 10th grade.
Early Adolescence as a Critical Period
Early adolescence is a critical period for a person’s development into adulthood. According to Jodi Quas, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, the changes in this period are profound biological, physical, psychological, and behavioral domains of functioning. This makes this transition period risky. A problem on one domain may end up influencing the functions of the other domains.
It is during this period that adolescents try to build their own identity. They have a thirst for new experiences and engage in risky behavior. Coupled with a heightened peer influence, experimentation with substances such as drugs becomes common during this period.
In other cases, peers are not always the ones who invite them to use drugs. Sometimes, peers are the reason adolescents turn to drugs.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in general, rates of depression increase as people enter adolescence. Earnshaw’s study suggested that children who experienced peer victimization were more likely to engage in drugs than children who were not. Children who were confused of their sexual identity or gender orientation and also bullied during fifth grade were very likely to use substances upon reaching 10th grade.
In 2015, people in the LGBTQ+ population were found to likely use drugs twice as much as heterosexual Americans, according to a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. For people who have been victims of bullying and harassment, drug use becomes a coping mechanism. This is especially risky for adolescents because this increases the risk of drug addiction as they age.
However, adolescence is also the time where interventions are most beneficial. Risk factors such as peer influence and peer victimization may be strong but so are protective factors like a strong sense of identity and belonging to a group and a strong positive influence from an adult. Prevention programs and behavior monitoring can be carried out to lessen the risk factors that children face as they transition to adulthood.