Bullying, Weight, and Teen Substance Abuse

Girl Bullied By Female Students - Addiction Hope

“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” This line from William Golding’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies marks the climax of the story, one in which “Piggy” falls to his death. The book captures many themes about human nature, but the most memorable is the capacity that humans have to harm one another.

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but researchers are learning more about it and the effects bullying has on teens. According to the website stopbullying.gov, an official website of the United States government, between 25-33% of US students, say that they have been bullied. About 30% of students admit to bullying others. Almost all bullying happens in middle school. [1]

One common reason to be bullied is appearance and weight. In a study conducted at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, researchers surveyed 1,344 students ranging in age from 11 to 14 from five public middle schools near Hartford, Connecticut.

The students were asked if they had been bullied by friends and family members about their weight, size, or eating habits over the past six months. More than half (55%) of the overall participants reported weight-based teasing, including three out of four overweight girls (76%), 71% of overweight boys, 52% of girls who weren’t overweight, and 43% of boys who weren’t overweight. [2]

If these statistics are not concerning enough, the study showed that being teased about weight frequently increases the likelihood of alcohol use, binge drinking, and marijuana use among middle school students.

Depressed Young Woman Sitting sad about BullyingThe study also suggested that the connection between teasing and alcohol use was stronger for girls. This connection highlights the reality that young women in our culture experience a great deal of pressure to conform to ideals of thinness and beauty.

Signs of Trouble

If you are concerned that a child might be experiencing bullying at school or using substances such as marijuana or alcohol, there are warning signs to look for that can indicate that one or both are happening:

  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with studies or drops in grades
  • Changes in friend groups
  • Changes in mood – more irritable, angry, or depressed

These are just some of the signs that can indicate that a child is either being bullied, using substances, or both. [3, 4]

If you have concerns about your teen being bullied, talk with them but realize that teens are generally reluctant about opening up about these subjects, especially in front of others. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Talk in a private setting.
  • Don’t rush into to offer advice. Listen first.
  • If you don’t already regularly talk with your child, make it a habit, especially later at night, when it seems their guards can drop.


1. Public Affairs. (2019, December 18). Facts About Bullying. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/resources/facts#stats

2. Weight-based bullying linked to increased adolescent alcohol, marijuana use. (2020, February 25). Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200225154338.htm

3. Public Affairs. (2019, December 4). Warning Signs for Bullying. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/warning-signs

4. Early Warning Signs of Teen Substance Use. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/warning-signs-teen-substance-use

About the Authors:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Travis’ website is wtravisstewart.com

Laura J. Stewart, Missouri State University

Laura J. Stewart received her Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Gerontology in 2020 from Missouri State University. She has worked with senior adults in an assisted living environment and as a mental health tech in residential eating disorder treatment. Her interests include eating disorders, gerontology, and organizational psychology.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 7, 2020
Published May 7, 2020, on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.