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Bullying can affect substance, alcohol abuse, Ohio State study says

Courtesy of MCT

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Middle and high school students who engage in bullying behaviors are more likely to use substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a recent study.

Ohio State School of Psychology assistant professor Kisha Radliff led a study that surveyed more than 74,000 students from public, private and Catholic middle and high schools in the Columbus area.

“Basically we looked at bullying and substance use (cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana) across middle school consistent with the literature we found that bullying peaked in middle school and substance use peaked in high school,” Radliff said in an email to The Lantern.

Through a 152-question survey, Radliff and her team found that of students who bullied others and bully-victims, or students who are both bullies and victims, were more likely to engage in substance use.

Radliff’s study found that 30 percent of middle school students were bullies or victims of the act versus 23 percent of high school students.

While high school victims showed they were more likely to use cigarettes and alcohol than said she expected, Radliff said middle school victims had no significant use of substances.

According to the research, bully or not, substance use among middle school students was less than five percent, while in high school students, the percentage was larger.

Thirty-two percent of surveyed high school students said they used alcohol, 16 percent claimed they’d smoked marijuana and 14 percent had smoked cigarettes.

Specifically, though, one of the biggest things Radliff found was the relationship between substance use and students’ involvement in bullying.

For example, 11.4 percent of middle-school bullies and 6.1 percent bully-victims used marijuana compared to the 1.6 percent of those uninvolved in bullying who said they used the drug.

This particular trend carried into high school, as 31.7 percent of bullies, 29.2 percent of bully-victims and 16.6 percent of victims to bullying were marijuana users.

Only 13.3 percent of students not involved in bullying behaviors claimed they had used marijuana.

Despite her findings, Radliff said her data was not able to answer why bullies tend to engage in higher substance use.

“What we can hypothesize based on what our findings do tell us and by the larger body of literature, is that youth who engage in one type of risky behavior (e.g., bullying) are at-risk or more likely to engage in another form of risky behavior (e.g., substance use),” she said.

Karishma Patel, a second-year in pharmaceutical sciences, said she agreed with the study’s findings and it’s hard not to draw a correlation between substances users and bullies.

She said she thinks bullies are usually unhappy with their own lives and take it out on other people, rather than dealing with their feelings in a healthier manner.

“Putting down other people makes bullies forget their own issues and they focus on someone else’s,” Patel said. “They may find this as a coping mechanism, to shallowly deal with their problems, not really getting to the root of it.”

That’s where she said drugs could fill a void in bullies.

“While there are many reasons for students doing drugs, I think the data definitely shows that drugs may lead to bullying and vice versa,” Patel said.

Similarly, Radliff wanted to clarify that the data suggesting bullies are more likely to engage in high levels of substance use is correlational, meaning they cannot determine any sort of causation.

Rather, the relationship between bullying and substance use is a two-way street.

“This means that it could also be that individuals who engage in higher levels of substance use are more likely to also bully others,” Radliff said. “Basically, we don’t know which behavior came first.”

Radliff said she doesn’t know why people bully and it’s not something the study addressed.

“Based on research I have conducted, research I have been involved in and reading the literature, I think there are a variety of reasons why some individuals bully,” she said. “For some, it may be a learned behavior, for others it may be a means of having control and/or power when that is lacking in other areas of their life.”

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