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  3. What Do Bullying and Youth Substance Use Have in Common? More Than You Might Think

What Do Bullying and Youth Substance Use Have in Common? More Than You Might Think

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On the surface, bullying and youth substance use may seem like separate problems.  However, from research, we know that kids who use drugs or alcohol are at risk for other problem behaviors during their teen years. Recent findings confirm previous studies that found links between bullying and substance use. In a recent article, researchers found that middle and high school students who bully their peers or are bully-victims (bully others and are also bullied) are more likely than students who aren’t involved in bullying to use alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana.

Bullying and substance use among kids have shared risk and protective factors. Prevention efforts can lessen these risk factors and strengthen protective factors in a child’s life. If a problem has already surfaced, learn to recognize the warning signs of bullying and being bullied, underage alcohol use, and drug use to intervene before the problem becomes worse.

But let’s rewind: how do you know which risk and protective factors to focus on? Read on!


Close parent-child relationships are vital for a child’s well-being. When families can talk openly, kids can talk about their problems more easily. Additionally, clear, consistent discipline—without being too extreme or physical—helps kids understand that certain behaviors, like bullying and substance use, are unacceptable and that there are consequences for those actions. Finally, showing empathy and helping kids form positive values helps keep them from bullying others and using drugs or alcohol. Children whose parents use drugs and alcohol are also at risk.


Peers and friends are important for social and personal growth. However, kids who spend time with other kids who bully or use alcohol and drugs are more likely to engage in those activities. The same goes for children who have trouble interacting with their peers.

Parent supervision and involvement, such as getting to know your child’s friends, can help a young person avoid behavioral problems by making wise decisions about the company he or she keeps.

Academic performance

Doing well in school and being enthusiastic about learning are protective factors for youth substance use and bullying. Poor grades and disinterest in school are just the opposite—they put a child at risk for those same behaviors.

Individual characteristics

Parents and teachers should be on the lookout for aggressive behavior, especially if they see it at an early age, because it’s an indicator that a child could become involved in drugs, alcohol, and/or bullying. Teachers and families should also seek opportunities to recognize and reinforce children’s abilities and accomplishments—self-esteem, competencies, and skills are characteristics that “protect” a child.

Environmental characteristics

Our environments play an important part in shaping who we become. Young people who are surrounded by substance use, crime, poverty, and violence at home or in their neighborhoods are more likely to turn to bullying and drug or alcohol use. Community and policy initiatives are essential to remove and prevent environmental risk factors that affect youth. Explore prevention resources and tools, and take the first step toward tackling these issues in your community.