Fink! Still at Large: A Recent Study of U.S. 10th-Grade Adolescents at the University of Washington, Seattle, Showed a Positive Association between Victimization by Bullies and Substance Use. Are These Findings Plausible?

By Fink, Paul J. | Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Fink! Still at Large: A Recent Study of U.S. 10th-Grade Adolescents at the University of Washington, Seattle, Showed a Positive Association between Victimization by Bullies and Substance Use. Are These Findings Plausible?


Fink, Paul J., Clinical Psychiatry News


Yes, the study findings are plausible. Bullying can be the underlying issue in the beginning of substance use. Some children turn to using alcohol and marijuana in their effort to deal with the depression that has developed as a result of being bullied.

The investigation under discussion, published April 27 online by Jeremy W. Luk and his colleagues, found that depression was tied to bullying victimization for adolescent males and females (Prev. Sci. 2010 April 27[doi:10.1007/s11121-0179-0)]. However, they found that only among adolescent females were these associations linked to substance use.

"It is possible that female adolescents were more affected by relational problems that were due to victimization, contributing to the moderation by sex in the mediational pathway from victimization to substance use," wrote Mr. Luk, of the University of Washington, Seattle.

My own work has found that killing or being killed are serious sequelae of bullying. In addition, this form of victimization can lead to suicide. Add in the devastating impact of cyberbullying and the increasing reports of youth who have been driven to killing themselves, and it becomes clear just how awful this form of schoolyard fun really is ("Flink! Still at Large," December 2003, p. 5). They also are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors such as drug abuse, and they clearly need our help.

I have worked in the School District of Philadelphia for more than a decade, and despite the establishment of a zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind, more attention needs to be paid to bullying. Children must feel safe in school, and the child who is being bullied every day is not safe. In addition, there needs to be recognition that children who are being bullied cannot learn.

The bullied child feels worthless and excluded, and of ten feels as if he/she has no one to turn to for help. When a child screams 'leave me alone," too often, he is met with gales of laughter from his tormentors. Feelings of worthlessness are one of the major symptoms of depression, so it should not surprise us to find that depression and suicide are important sequelae to being bullied.

In addition, as the authors of the article suggest, depression is an entryway to substance abuse. We have known for decades that children as well as adults use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate for depression. There fore, the findings of the study are all quite logical.

We must reject the notion that children are cruel. Caring for others should be part of the value system that we convey to our children.

I have recommended to the Philadelphia school district that all assertive/aggressive boys in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades be placed in groups of 10 children and counseled for a year to try to change their behavior in school. Hitting, hurting, fighting, and assaulting are occurring in our schools regularly. We need to look at preventive models to reduce aggression and bullying. It is my contention that reducing aggression in our elementary schools would lead to fewer arrests in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades and fewer murders at ages 17, 18, and 19.

I have chaired the Philadelphia Youth Homicide Committee for 17 years and have looked for markers that would warn of the potential of young people for either killing someone or being killed. We have found that important markers are serious chronic truancy, multiple suspensions from school, and bullying. We have followed these signs over many years, and they have regularly proven to be valid.

Prevention means we should be addressing these issues and bringing an end to these activities to prevent youth murder.

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Fink! Still at Large: A Recent Study of U.S. 10th-Grade Adolescents at the University of Washington, Seattle, Showed a Positive Association between Victimization by Bullies and Substance Use. Are These Findings Plausible?
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