Middle School Bullies More Likely to Use Alcohol, Study Says

Filed under: In The News, Bullying

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Adolescent bullies and victims are more likely to use alcohol than those not involved in bullying. Credit: Corbis

If your child is a bully, now there's another reason -- aside from common sense and decency -- to reign in his aggressive behavior.

Young adolescents involved in bullying behavior, either as perpetrators or victims, are significantly more likely to use alcohol than those who are not involved in bullying at all, according to a study published online this week in the The Journal of Early Adolescence.

Although both bullies and victims use alcohol, bullies are more likely to do so in comparison to victims, those who were both perpetrators and victims or those who are not at all involved in bullying behaviors. So, basically, these findings show bullies are more likely to use and abuse alcohol than other kids.

"Both bullying and alcohol use are relatively common adolescent experiences," the authors write, adding that both are public health concerns.

Defined as "aggression that is intentional, repeated and involves a disparity of power between the perpetrator and the victim," bullying is an international phenomenon among adolescents, with studies from Canada, Europe and Africa showing a wide prevalence, the study reports.

In the United States, a recent national survey of students in sixth through 10th grade found that nearly 30 percent of those polled were involved in recent bullying at school, while a similar study of seventh and eighth graders put the number at 24 percent, the authors say.

The current study looks at three types of bullying behaviors and finds that verbal bullying is the most prevalent, followed by physical and then cyber. The consequences of bullying are also examined, with bullying or being bullied potentially associated with an increased risk of social and psychological problems, including alcohol use.

The authors note that alcohol is the most prevalent drug used by adolescents in the United States, with nearly 16 percent of eighth graders, nearly 5 percent of seventh graders and 7.5 percent of sixth graders reporting alcohol use in the past 30 days, according to recent studies cited in the report.

Alcohol use by middle school students has been shown to lead to alcohol dependency and a range of "negative outcomes," such as vehicle accidents, unwanted sexual experiences and poor school performance. In addition, the authors say alcohol use in adolescence is especially problematic in light of the "rapid physical growth, pubertal development and psychological and social maturation that are hallmarks of the developmental period."

While a few studies have examined the relationship between bullying behaviors and alcohol use in adolescents, the current study is the largest assessment of the three types of bullying behavior and alcohol use to date, using data from a random sample of 44,352 middle school students derived from the 2008 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey.

In other findings, though the current study showed a relatively low rate of cyberbullying compared to other studies, the researchers found that kids who were involved in cyberbullying were more likely to use alcohol than those involved in physical and verbal bullying. And victims of cyberbullying had nearly two times greater odds of alcohol use than students who were not at all involved in bullying.

"Education and prevention programs on alcohol use should take into consideration bullying behaviors with attention to the differences in type of bullying behaviors and involvement," the authors conclude. "In addition, as the Internet and cell phones have started to play a major role in adolescents' communication and social life, important avenues for future research on the association between cyberbullying and alcohol use should include other student characteristics such as mood change, depression and relationships with peers that may give us more information on high-risk populations for bullying behaviors."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.