Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Cyberbullying & Substance Abuse Connection in Teens

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reveals that teen boys who have been cyberbullied run a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems than teens who have not been the victim of online attack. Cyberbullying, a relatively new phenomenon, refers to the practice of harassing and/or abusing someone via social media, email, or other online platforms. In addition to the increased likelihood of substance abuse, which can lead to addiction, the study and others like it have also found that exposure to cyberbullying increases a teen’s risk of developing depression, Internet addiction, and a wide range of psychological and behavioral health problems.

Defining Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all way to describe cyberbullying. In fact, cyberbullying can and does take many different forms. Furthermore, it doesn’t just affect teens; most people, regardless of age, will experience some type of cyberbullying in their lifetime. Some of the different types of cyberbullying include:

  • Flaming (e.g., insults, rude comments, or other hurtful “speech” via emails, posts on online message boards, instant messages, or chat rooms)
  • Harassment in the form of threats via an online media form
  • Publicly and purposefully embarrassing someone online
  • Falsely and often negatively impersonating someone online
  • Posting nude or otherwise embarrassing or defamatory photos online without the person’s permission

Cyberbullying and Substance Abuse

Being bullied online—or in person, for that matter—is obviously not a pleasant thing. It can make the victim feel frightened and alone and can lead to the development of poor self-image and self-esteem. When a person, especially a teen, is bullied constantly, he will often turn to drugs and/or alcohol in order to numb the fear, pain, sadness, and anxiety caused by cyberbullying. If a person does this often enough, a serious substance abuse problem or even an addiction could eventually develop. To make matters worse, the substance abuse or addiction has the power to make the person feel worse, which can lead to further use of drugs and alcohol. Obviously, it’s best to prevent cyberbullying than it is to try and get rid of the negative behaviors and feelings that may develop as a result.

Preventing Cyberbullying

Teens should be educated on what cyberbullying is and on what to do if it occurs. While each situation is different, teens can benefit greatly from doing certain things, including:

  • Telling their parents if they believe cyberbullying is occurring
  • Reporting online users who engage in cyberbullying to the online platforms’ owners
  • Saving any evidence of cyberbullying
  • Avoiding responding to cyberbullying
  • Reporting any threats or other illegal behaviors to local authorities
  • Blocking the person who is executing the cyberbullying attacks
  • Avoiding accepting friend requests or instant messages from unknown people
  • Being kind and considerate to others online

If prevention is not an option for you and if your teenage son has already developed some of the negative effects of cyberbullying, it is important to seek professional help for him today. Call us at Muir Wood now to discuss therapeutic options for your son.