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Bullying Effects: Insights from New Studies on Intensity and Duration

If you believe the latest research, our schools might finally be making headway when it comes to school bullying.

One recent study shows that reported incidents fell by 7 percent between 2005 and 2015. Another study of Maryland students suggested the number of reported incidents could be down more than half.

Welcome news, to be sure. But the numbers don’t mean much to parents and students who are struggling with abuse in schools, or who worry about the headlines that appear on the news night after night.

Across the country, students, parents, and school leaders continue to wrestle with bullying in their schools, and look for ways to reduce its effects.

Two new studies released this month reveal just how serious—and long-lasting—those effects can be.

Bullying causes substance abuse

Students who are bullied in fifth grade are more likely to use illegal substances like marijuana and alcohol in tenth grade. That’s according to a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, reports Kate Stringer in The 74.

The link between bullying and substance abuse has been researched before. This latest study is the first to establish a cause for the connection, Stringer writes.

Bullying often leads students to become withdrawn and depressed, the study finds. To deal with these feelings, students often turn to alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other substances to self-medicate.

For more on the latest bullying research, read Report: Bullying is down in schools. But students still don’t feel as safe as they should.

Sexual minority students and children with disabilities are among the most likely to report bullying. These students also experience more intense effects from the abuse, according to the research, which means they could also be at higher risk for substance abuse.

Health effects from bullying last into adulthood

For bullied students, leaving school doesn’t necessarily end the influence of school-based bullying on their lives.

A study published in Psychological Science shows that adults who were bullied in their youth are more likely to feel victimized, struggle with financial issues, be pessimistic about the future, and face a higher amount of stress, Stringer reports.

Adults who were bullied in school were also more likely to smoke, according to the report, showing that substance abuse triggered in youth may often linger into adulthood.

The report, which echoes similar results from studies in Europe and Australia, shows that the effects of bullying might linger longer than previously thought.

What’s more, the research shows just how vital school-sponsored anti-bullying policies and procedures are to helping students achieve success later in life. Despite reported progress in recent years, it’s clear schools still have much work to do.

As University of Delaware social psychologist Valerie Earnshaw told The 74:

“I would caution folks who are looking at these data and, yes, maybe the overall trends may be changing, and that’s a really wonderful thing, but it’s also really important to look at what those trends look like for LGBT youth and youth with disabilities. Youth are bullied when they live with these characteristics that are devalued in society.”

What steps is your school or district taking to reduce the effects of student-on-student bullying? What programs do you have to eliminate the scourge of bullying in your schools? Tell us in the comments.