May 11, 2017
1 min read

Bullying increases risk for depression, substance use in late adolescence

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Being bullied in early adolescence may increase risk for depression and substance use during mid- to late adolescence, according to recent findings.

“Given these trends of decreasing peer victimization and increasing substance use through adolescence, it is possible that associations between peer victimization and substance use emerge longitudinally. That is, youth who are bullied early in adolescence may be more likely to engage in substance use by mid- to late adolescence,” Valerie A. Earnshaw, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues wrote. “Indeed, a small but growing body of work suggests that early experiences of peer victimization are linked to worse mental health and greater engagement in health risk behaviors during early adulthood.”

To assess associations between peer victimization in early adolescence and alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use in mid- to late adolescence, researchers analyzed longitudinal data for 4,297 youth from 2004 to 2011.

More frequent experiences of peer victimization in fifth grade were associated with greater depressive symptoms in seventh grade (P < .001), which was consequently associated with greater risk for alcohol use (P = .003), marijuana use (P < .001), and tobacco use (P < .001) in tenth grade.

Peer victimization in fifth grade was indirectly associated with substance use in tenth grade. This association was mediated by depressive symptoms in seventh grade, including alcohol use (P = .006), marijuana use (P < .001), and tobacco use (P < .001).

“All youth should be screened for peer victimization, depressive symptoms, and substance use in health care settings,” the researchers wrote. “Moreover, youth experiencing depressive symptoms and substance use should be offered treatment when needed. Ultimately, pediatricians, parents, and school representatives can work together to address peer victimization and prevent substance use among youth.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.