Bully increases risk of substance abuse: Latest study shows

Recently, many bullying cases have surfaced locally. It is a common knowledge that bullying can have lasting psychological impacts on children, even when they grow into adults. However, a recent study further revealed more insidious negative effects caused by bullying  


Risk of Substance Abuse 

The study was conducted on students who were in fifth grade (equivalent to Standard 5 where students are about 11 years of age) and followed them through for up to 7 years. It was found that students who experienced bullying at fifth grade were more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana by tenth grade (equivalent to Form 4 where students are about 16 years of age). This was also associated with increase in symptoms of depression by seventh grade (equivalent to Form 1 where students are about 13 years of age). The symptoms of depression and substance abuse were directly related to bullying and also interrelated hence creating a vicious cycle. This trend is observed in both boys and girls. 


Bullying must be taken seriously 

The authors of the study concluded that bullying in early adolescence can have a lasting impact by increasing the likelihood of substance abuse behaviours around mid to late adolescence. As such, cases of bullying must be taken seriously.  


The main author for this study, Earnshaw had urged “paediatricians to screen youth for peer victimization, symptoms of depression and substance use”. He opined that doctors are in a good position to offer counsel to youth and recommendations to both parents and youth for approaching teachers and school staff for support. Moreover, youth experiencing depressive symptoms and substance use should be offered treatment when needed. He also extended this message to teachers requesting educators to take it seriously and stressed on the importance of intervention. 




  1. Earnshaw V, Elliott M, Reisner S, Mrug S, Windle M, Emery S et al. Peer Victimization, Depressive Symptoms, and Substance Use: A Longitudinal Analysis. Pediatrics. 2017;139(6):e20163426. 
  2. Bryant T. Bullying’s lasting harm | UDaily [Internet]. Udel.edu. 2017 [cited 11 September 2017]. Available from: http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2017/may/bullying-can-have-lasting-harmful-impacts/
Pou Wee Gan
Pou Wee Gan

M.Pharm, MBBS, BCPS, R.Ph

A pharmacist first, then a medical doctor. An avid tea drinker and an occasional poet.

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