Unsafe Coping After Being Bullied

Suicidal behavior from high risk substance use and violence found in bullied teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Teens may turn to drinking, drugs or lash out after being bullied. Healthy coping techniques may help reduce this type of high-risk behavior in these teens.

A recent survey asked a group of high school kids about whether or not they had been bullied and if they participated in substance use, violence or unsafe sex.

The results of the study showed that teens who had been bullied were more likely to use substances and be violent in high-risk ways that could be considered suicidal behavior compared to teens who had not been bullied.

"Seek a therapist for healthy coping strategies."

Brett J. Litwiller, a graduate student from Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of Oklahoma, led this study to investigate the role of bullying in adolescent substance abuse and violence.

Previous studies have suggested that recent upticks in teen suicides could be linked to bullying and environmental stressors. Other recent studies have suggested that roughly 20 to 35 percent of adolescents have bullied another person, been bullied or both.

Types of adolescent bullying include physical assault, verbal threats or insults, spreading rumors, exclusion from groups and activities and aggressive texts or social network posts.

According to the authors, teens who have been cyberbullied with aggressive texts or social network posts have been more likely to report depressive symptoms than teens who have been bullied through non-cyber methods.

For this study, 4,693 students from 27 Midwestern public high schools were surveyed about their experiences with bullying, being bullied, substance use, violent behavior, unsafe sexual behavior and suicidal behavior.

The researchers classified reckless substance abuse behaviors, violent behaviors and unsafe sexual behaviors as suicidal behaviors.

The results of the study showed that 33 percent of the students said they had been physically bullied, 23 percent had been cyberbullied and 30 percent of students said they had thought about suicide or had participated in high-risk suicidal behavior in the past year.

The researchers calculated that physical bullying was a predictor that explained 64 percent of suicidal behaviors, and that bullying predicted substance use and violent behavior more so than unsafe sexual behavior.

“Behavioral outcomes associated with being a victim of bullying may increase an adolescent’s suicide risk,” the study authors wrote.

According to the authors, the results of this study provide information on how bullying may trigger a sequence of events that result in high-risk, suicidal behavior.

“Rejection by peers and bullying specifically has been found to trigger psychological processes that result in externalizing (unsafe/hazardous) behavior,” they wrote.

The authors recommended that professionals who help adolescents deal with bullying should encourage healthy coping behaviors and support interventions that help adolescents avoid engaging in substance use or violent behaviors.

This study was published in May in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

No outside funding sources were used for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 31, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013