Two Studies Uncover Long-Lasting Effects of Childhood Bullying

Man sitting on window ledgeBullying has long-lasting negative effects that may extend into adulthood, according to two new studies. One study, published in the journal Pediatrics, links bullying in fifth grade to depression and substance abuse in high school. A separate study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found male bullies and their victims are more vulnerable to mental and physical health problems in their 30s.

Bullying: Risk Factor for High School Health Issues?

For the study published in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data on 4,297 students. The data was collected from 2004-2011, when students were in fifth through 10th grade. Forty-four percent of students were of Latin American descent; 22% were white; and 29% were African-American. The data spanned three cities: Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Researchers found sexual minorities, students with chronic illnesses, and boys were more likely to experience bullying in fifth grade. Ethnicity/race, age, obesity, and family socioeconomic factors did not appear to play a role in bullying risk.

Twenty-four percent of 10th graders used alcohol, with 15.2% reporting marijuana use and 11.7% using tobacco. Female sexual minorities were more likely to use marijuana and tobacco, but the same was not true for male sexual minorities. Sexual minority status was also linked more strongly to alcohol use in girls, though it also increased the use of alcohol among boys.

Overall, students who experienced bullying were more likely to use drugs and alcohol in 10th grade. They also reported more symptoms of depression in 10th grade. Researchers say this points to a complex interaction between bullying, mental health, and substance abuse. Certain risk factors—such as being a sexual minority—compound the risks.

The study’s authors say their data points to the need for more effective interventions to stop bullying among children. They emphasize that these findings can also provide important clues as to why some student experience depression or substance abuse.

How Bullying Affects Victims in Adulthood

The study published in Psychological Science gathered data on 305 men enrolled in the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Participants had an average age of 32 years and participated in a range of behavioral, psychological, and social assessments beginning in first grade. More than half of participants were African-American, and almost 60% came from families that received some form of public financial assistance.

Researchers averaged data on bullying provided by participants and their guardians when the participants were 10-12 years old. Both bullies and their victims experienced negative outcomes in adulthood.

Men who bullied others were more likely to behave aggressively, smoke tobacco and marijuana, and report high levels of stress in adulthood. Bullying victims were more likely to report financial difficulties, to experience unfair treatment, and to be pessimistic. Neither bullies nor their victims experienced an increase in inflammation or metabolic syndrome—two significant predictors of poor health.


  1. Bullying’s lasting impact. (2017, May 8). Retrieved from
  2. Childhood bullying linked to health risks in adulthood. (2017, May 9). Retrieved from
  3. Matthews, K. A., Jennings, J. R., Lee, L., & Pardini, D. A. (2017). Bullying and being bullied in childhood are associated with different psychosocial risk factors for poor physical health in men. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617697700

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  • Suzanne


    May 16th, 2017 at 9:47 AM

    The alcohol and the drugs are likely being used as a way to cope with the abuse. Because that is ultimately what bullying really is, physical mental or verbal abuse.

  • Nate


    May 17th, 2017 at 11:09 AM

    I was bullied all through elementary school. I begged my parents to let me change schools and they never would so it was something that I had to endure. I would be lying if I said that it had no effect on me growing up, and it still does today. You think that just because the behavior is gone from your life that you will be able to overcome it. I speak from experience and state firmly that these are things that make you who you are and they mold you into the person that you become and how you think of yourself. It still isn’t pretty for me some days.

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