One of the biggest challenges children and adolescents are faced with is being bullied. Bullying is a way of causing the victim to feel bad about himself or herself. It can be physical or non-physical and it can be done by individuals or groups. Bullies may taunt, tease, spread rumors and call others by derogatory names. There may be physical harm such as punching, kicking, spitting or stealing personal property. Social bullying includes purposeful exclusion from activities or deliberate embarrassment, while cyberbullying can occur through emails, texting or tweeting. The intent of the bully is to assert dominance, power and social control over the victim. What makes it so overwhelming for victims of bullying is that there isn’t a way to make it stop. Weeks, months or even years of physical or emotional humiliation can cause the victim to feel like there is no way out, and ultimately the victim may want to harm himself or herself or do anything at all to stop the pain.
Descent Into Drug Addiction
If a child or teenager is dealing with constant teasing, condescension or social exclusion, he or she may turn to alcohol or other substances to escape from feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Being the victim of a bully causes a great deal of emotional turmoil and trauma. Under the influence of mind-altering chemicals, painful emotions may seem a whole lot more manageable. Pretty soon turning to alcohol or drugs becomes a habit that can’t be broken without substance abuse treatment. Kids who are bullied may also turn to substance use because many of them struggle with feelings of low self-esteem, which is a high risk factor for addiction. Victims of bullying may already believe that there is something not quite right about them, and hearing continual messages of rejection reinforces negative beliefs they may already have about themselves. The problem is that turning to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain creates a new problem. It may not be as easy to quit relying on substances as teens may think. They have stopped feeling the pain of being bullied, but instead they are filled with a compulsion to keep turning to alcohol, street drugs or prescription drugs. This can result in problems with schoolwork, conflict with family or friends and a wide variety of other possible problems. While you may not be aware that your child is being bullied, you may notice that something isn’t quite right about his or her behavior. Talk to your child or a medical professional if you notice that your child is withdrawn, moody, agitated or lethargic. Other possible signs of addiction include bloodshot eyes, unusual smells or odors, deterioration in personal hygiene, shakes, tremors or slurred speech.
Bullying and Suicide Risk
Whether or not victims of bullying turn to alcohol or drugs, they are at an increased risk of attempting to commit suicide. Being bullied causes a child to feel extremely powerless. In many cases, more than one of his or her peers are involved in taunting, teasing or relaying messages of rejection. Feeling like a social outcast or a person who is somehow flawed can lead to feelings of extreme hopelessness. If the teen is also drinking or using other substances, negative emotions may be experienced with even greater intensity, particularly when the substance wears off. Bullies frequently attempt to ruin the reputation of the victim. Rumors may be spread around school or on the Internet that may or may not be true, but the result is the same. The bullied child feels like he or she is never going to belong in the social circle and may feel very desperate to end the pain. A large number of suicide attempts among teens is related to bullying. Bullies have even been known to suggest that the victim should kill himself or herself.
Helping a Bullied Child or Teen
If you suspect your child is being bullied, don’t assume that it’s a phase that will pass. While it’s true that mean classmates come and go, if your child is showing signs that he or she is very depressed or is afraid to go to school at all, it’s time to intervene. Signs that your child could be considering suicide include loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure, withdrawing from loved ones, loss of appetite, giving away favorite possessions or making comments that everyone would be better off without him or her. Let your child know you are concerned, and take him or her to your doctor or a counselor. Take all threats of suicide or signs of severe depression or problems with alcohol or drugs seriously. If you know who the bully is, involve school authorities, a lawyer or the police. Above all else, pay attention to your child and get him or her the help that is needed.