Bullying is a serious problem among teen girls. Not only in how it affects their view of relationships, but as a risk factor for loneliness, depression, suicide, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Bullying can completely warp one’s sense of self and safety, which can lead to long-lasting emotional consequences, long after incidents of bullying stop. Girls who have been victims of bullying are more likely to turn to substance use to cope with negative emotions.
- Bullying is most prevalent in middle school, while substance use is more common among high school students
- Students who are involved in bullying are more likely than those not involved to try alcohol or other drugs
- Adverse childhood experiences are associated with developing unhealthy coping mechanisms later on in life
Depression is the Missing Link
A study conducted by the University of Washington suggests that bullying-related depression among adolescent girls may lead to increased substance use. A key finding of this study was gender differences in the role substance use plays in coping with depression and victimization. Bullying was linked to substance use in both males and females, but depression was only associated with victimization, not substance use in boys.
This suggests that bullying takes a more significant toll in girls’ emotional wellbeing and can lead to destructive coping mechanisms. This is significant as girls are usually expected to internalize emotional issues while it is assumed boys are more likely to act out.
Another reason contributing to gender differences is that girls place more value on social relationships, therefore the effects of bullying tend to be more devastating. Girls are also more vulnerable to cyberbullying due to higher levels of social media use, which means that bullying may not stop when the school day ends.
Reasons Why Teens Turn to Substance Use
- While boys often turn to substance use as a social activity, girls are more likely to turn to substance use to cope with emotional issues.
- Boys may be more likely to experience negative consequences due to risky behaviors associated with substance use, but girls are more likely to develop an emotional attachment to substances that contributes to addictive patterns.
- They learn quickly that they can change the way they feel by using substances through numbing emotional pain, increasing feelings of pleasure, or reducing feelings of anxiety.
- Sensation-seeking teens seek out new experiences to fight boredom and chase thrills.
How Bullying Plays a Role in Substance Use
Teens who have been a victim of bullying often feel socially isolated and desperate for connection. Bullying and rejection sends them messages that they are worthless and unlovable and these narratives can be hard to challenge. This can interfere with their motivation to connect with others, their ability to feel comfortable being themselves, and their desire to escape from potentially uncomfortable social situations.
Over time, substance use can have a similar effect, but before problems compound, teens learn that substances can meet this need for connection in a variety of ways.
- Many substances increase levels of the “love hormone,” oxytocin, which reduces social anxiety and increases empathy for others.
- Drinking and smoking is usually a social activity for teenagers, which helps isolated teens feel more included.
- As substance use is often a matter of accessibility, teens develop relationships with other substance-using peers in order to find drugs and alcohol, even if those relationships lack emotional intimacy.
- While “peer pressure” is considered a myth regarding substance use, it is true that many teens think using substances will make them look cool or help them fit in. In some cases, they believe it will help them stand out less.
- Due to behavioral inhibition and numbing negative emotions, teens experience less social anxiety that have dominated their past social experiences.
A Holistic Approach to Finding Authentic Connection
Just as none of these issues exist in isolation, addressing these complex issues requires a multidimensional approach. Residential programs provide a supportive healing environment for girls struggling with relationship issues and destructive behaviors to build authentic connections with others. Removed from negative influences in their home environment, girls have the opportunity to focus on themselves and explore their strengths.
Solstice East Can Help
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for young women ages 14-18 struggling with depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors, like substance use, that often emerge as a way to cope with the effects of bullying and trauma. Students will learn to build healthy relationships, cope with emotions, and effectively communicate. Solstice East gives young women the skills and confidence they need to lead happy and healthy lives.
Contact us at (855) 672-7058. We can help your family today!