New research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that adolescents who are bullied are more likely to experiment with substances than those who are not. This suggests that turning to substances may be a way of coping with negative feelings or finding a new peer group. In this light, many teenagers who choose to experiment with substances may believe that they are making a rational decision, as substance use may protect them from the emotional effects of bullying.  

Risk Factors for Targets of Bullying 

The study found that one of the most common types of bullying is related to appearance or weight, which are often things that teens have no control over, contributing to a sense of helplessness. 

“This type of bullying is incredibly common and has many negative effects for adolescents,” said lead study author Melanie Klinck, BA, a clinical research assistant at the University of Connecticut. “The combination of appearance-related teasing and the increased sensitivity to body image during adolescence may create a heightened risk for substance use.”

In this case, low self-esteem and body image issues may be mediating factors in the relationship between bullying and experimenting with substances.

Addressing Root Causes of Substance Use

In order to effectively address teen’s substance use, psychologists must look at the root causes of why they choose to experiment with substances. While it may be to make them feel good or different, there are usually deeper unmet needs that they are trying to meet at the same time, whether they are aware of them or not. 

For many teens struggling with substance use, they may use substances to give them “liquid courage” in social situations, to quiet thoughts of low self-esteem, or to distract them from body image issues. It is also common for teens to turn to substances to directly impact their appetite if they are struggling with their body image. Focusing on these issues rather than the behavior itself reduces urges to engage in substance use. 

The Impact of Adventure Therapy on Teens

When therapeutic programs, like wilderness therapy, restrict access to substance use, it is necessary to focus on the layers that unravel around substance use in order to adequately prepare teens for relapse prevention. Adventure activities are therapeutic for teens struggling with substance use not only because they serve as alternative coping mechanisms for mental health struggles underlying substance use, but also because they directly improve one’s mental health. 

For example, trying a new activity and developing new skills can boost one’s self-esteem and becoming more physically active and recognizing one’s strength improves body image issues. This suggests that adventure therapy may actually reduce one’s risk of being bullied in the future, not just affect how they cope with bullying.

blueFire Wilderness Can Help

blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with addictive behaviors. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allow them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Students will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of their behavior issues. blueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to combat these behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life.

Contact us at 1-844-413-1999 for more information. 

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