How Cyberbullying Can Result in Substance Abuse

Cyberbullying is a serious issue in our society today. It’s very important for everyone to know how destructive cyberbullying can be to an individual’s physical and mental health.  Its long-term effects can possibly lead to substance abuse and addiction.  

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Did you know that about 37 percent of kids between 12 and 17 have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their life? And for about 30 percent of these kids, it happens more than once.

The evolution of technology has provided many opportunities for good; however, all too often, kids and adults are experiencing the negative impact as well. As technology evolves and we learn more about cyberbullying, it is coming to light that there is a connection between cyberbullying and substance abuse.

Have you experienced cyberbullying? Keep reading to understand the impact that cyberbullying has on mental health, substance abuse, and more.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place on digital devices. This can include computers, tablets, and cell phones.

This form of bullying can occur using various mediums. These could include SMS, text, apps, social media, forums, gaming platforms, or any other online forum.

Cyberbullying includes posting, sharing, or sending false, mean, negative, and harmful information about another person that is intended to make fun of them. This can include pictures, text, video, screenshots, and memes.

In certain circumstances, cyberbullying can rise to the level of criminal behavior and hate crimes.

Beyond Children

While children are some of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to cyberbullying, the problem is not limited to children. Unfortuantely, children learn the behavior from the adults they see interacting online.

Memes and conversations intended to humiliate others are prime examples of adults engaging in this type of behavior. While to many the people of Walmart memes are intended to be funny, to others, it’s harassment and cyberbullying.

The dangers of cyberbullying are not small, and neither are the effects.

Cyberbullying amongst adults can even rise to the level of threats, harassment, and stalking. Around 62 percent of people believe that online harassment is a huge issue and more needs done to address this.

However, the question becomes, how do you address this without taking away freedom of speech. While many social media platforms have banned this kind of behavior and will even place temporary bans on users who engage in these behaviors, it’s not enough.

Recognizing Cyberbullying

How do you recognize cyberbullying? It’s not always black and white, and there are various ways this can occur.
Some forms of cyberbullying are more challenging to recognize than others. They may seem innocuous, but ultimately they have an effect.


Did you know that exclusion can be a form of cyberbullying? This involves keeping the person getting bullied out of conversations, activities, and social network sites.

The intent here is to make the person feel alone or isolated. This type of exclusion is done to harm someone. The person getting bullied will know they’re getting excluded because bullies will work to make it obvious.


Harassment involves the person doing the bullying attempting to make the person fear them. This involves abusive and threatening messages.

The fear that comes from these messages is very real. Threatening messages could include the person telling them they will release information or pictures or do something to humiliate the person.


Dissing involves sharing information that is personal about the victim getting bullied. The intent of sharing this information is to damage the person’s reputation or relationships with others.

This can be done in private or public messages. Typically, you will see that the person has some type of personal relationship with the individual they are bullying.

Outing or Doxing

Outing or Doxing involves sharing private information to humiliate the person getting bullied. The information that is often revealed is very sensitive.

This can include personal photos, documents, addresses, and other personal information. This type of cyberbullying can often be very dangerous in communities that thrive on anonymity.

In gaming communities, you can hear of doxing when someone gets ahold of personal information and posts it for the rest of the gaming community. This type of bullying often involves getting the person’s trust first and then using the personal information you gain from that relationship to bully an individual.


Cyberstalking is one of the most serious types of cyberbullying. This can include threats of physical harm towards the target.

Cyberstalking can also include other threats, false accusations, and monitoring. This type of cyberbullying can get done in conjunction with real stalking.

This is one of the types of bullying that can get considered a crime. Actions taken could include a restraining order, probation, or even jail time.
Victims of cyberstalking live in fear of their physical safety.


Fraping is not a term that is well known; however, it’s can become a big issue. This occurs when someone else uses your social networking accounts to post content that is not appropriate.

This goes beyond a friend writing a message that is intended to be funny on your profile. An example of this type of bullying can include using racial or homophobic slurs to ruin a person’s reputation.

Doing this can also put the individual in harm’s way.

Catfishing or Masquerading

This can involve two different scenarios. In the first scenario, the bully sets up an account using the victim’s information and then uses those accounts to post things that will harm their victim’s reputation.

The other scenario includes the individual doing the bullying setting up a fake account to hide who they are. In this circumstance, the victim will often know who the bully is. However, the identity gets hidden behind the fake profile.


Trolling involves bullies who want to upset others intentionally. They do this by posting comments that are inflammatory online.

While trolling is not always cyberbullying, it can be used as a tool for cyberbullies. While these bullies often do not always have a personal relationship with their victims, the intent is always the same.

The person doing the trolling is maliciously seeking to humiliate or harm the person they are targeting.

If someone is displaying these warning signs, it is essential to take them seriously, even if they are not verbally expressing thoughts of suicide. A stressful event may trigger the individual and create a situation in which suicide can occur.

Cyberbullying Characteristics

While there are many types of cyberbullying, these forms of cyberbullying often share a few common traits. These common traits are part of the reason that cyberbullying is so dangerous.


Once something gets posted online, it can be viewable by anyone with access to the internet. In certain cases, this can lead to comments coming from all over.

If the person can get on the internet, they can see the information and use it to humiliate the victim.


While the comments or posts may get “deleted,” it’s never really gone. The internet is forever, and what happens online today can affect you in the future.


Bullying messages are not only uncontained but immediate. This means that people can see these messages immediately and at any time of the day.

Often Anonymous

The internet offers the perfect solution for bullying, anonymity. It’s easier to do or say things from behind a keyboard.

In addition, because of that anonymity, it can be difficult to not only identify who the bully is but to confront them. In some circumstances, you hear about people blocking accounts that are repeatedly harassing them, only to have that person create new fake profiles and continue the harassment.

What Are the Effects of Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can have many effects on both children and adults. These effects can range far and wide; however, they are very real.

While a growing part of the internet believes that people are “snowflakes” or need to grow a thicker skin, the problem goes beyond how the victim of cyberbullying responds to the abuse.

Cyberbullying effects can fall into four categories:
  1. Emotional
  2. Mental
  3. Behavioral 
  4. Physical
Emotional Effects of Cyberbullying

Many of the emotional effects of cyberbullying will often translate into other behaviors and effects. Victims of bullying may not know how to respond to these emotions in healthy ways. This is especially true when it comes to children.


Feelings of humiliation, exposure, and shame can result from cyberbullying. Having a private piece of yourself shared with the world without your consent is not something anyone wants.

In some circumstances where there are multiple people commenting or messaging, the humiliation can become overwhelming.


Cyberbullying can cause victims to feel isolated. This is especially true when it comes to kids.

While parents may suggest turning off the computer or the phone, this only intensifies that feeling. Technology has become a very important form of communication.

Turning off devices can cut off your connection to the outside world in the digital age.


Anger is a valid emotion to have in the case of cyberbullying. Anger and emotions such as being upset or worried are to be expected.

It becomes dangerous when you don't know how to handle that anger. This can lead to plots of revenge or retaliation. This keeps the cycle of bullying and victims going.

Anger can be a healthy emotion. However, in order for it to be a healthy emotion, you need to know how to deal with it.


When you are getting stalked or bullied online, it can be difficult to feel safe. This can cause you to feel powerless or vulnerable.

It can also make victims feel that they have no escape. This type of bullying can happen in the middle of the night through a phone notification. Not knowing who is doing the bullying can increase feelings of being powerless.
How do you confront or respond to bullying when you don't even know who the bully is?

Mental Effects

The emotional impact of cyberbullying can easily translate into mental effects. The stress of dealing with cyberbullying can lead to some of the mental effects listed below.

Low Self-Esteem

Any type of bullying can lead to low self-esteem. However, on bigger platforms, this problem can get magnified.

Typically with bullying, the bully will focus on something the person is already insecure about. This causes even more insecurity.

However, even if that's not the case, the person getting bullied can begin to feel doubt about their worth or value. This is the case for anyone experiencing cyberbullying.

However, because kids tie their self-worth to acceptance by their peer groups, their self-esteem can take an even bigger hit.

Depression and Anxiety

It is very easy for individuals experiencing cyberbullying to become depressed or anxious. In addition, they may develop other stress-related conditions.

Feelings of worry or being isolated can increase. Cyberbullying can also decrease self-confidence and self-worth.

All of this can lead to and contribute to depression and anxiety.

Academic Issues

For students experiencing cyberbullying, they begin to see issues in academics. As they struggle to cope with bullying that is occurring, they may lose interest in school.

This can lead to them skipping school to avoid bullies. It can also cause a drop in grades as victims can struggle to focus on their schoolwork and retain information.

Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm

There is a big link between bullying and self-harm. Many times you will see victims of bullying respond to their feelings by self-harming.

This is an example of an unhealthy coping mechanism. Cyberbullying can even lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. To some victims, dying may feel like an escape.

Behavioral Effects

There are multiple behavioral effects that can get experienced by individuals who get cyberbullied. These behavioral effects can have a long-lasting impact.

Using Drugs or Alcohol

Using drugs and alcohol is more common in victims of cyberbullying. This is especially true for kids.

Kids don't have the same coping mechanisms as adults. Many children may choose to self-medicate through alcohol and drugs.

Skipping School

Going to school can be scary if you fear that you will have to encounter people cyberbullying you. This can lead to kids skipping school or displaying behaviors that result in suspension.

Carrying a Weapon

If you are experiencing cyberbullying, you might not feel safe. This can lead to you choosing to carry a weapon.

This is also true for kids experiencing cyberbullying. Kids who have been targets of cyberbullying are eight times more likely to take a weapon to school.

Physical Effects

The effects of cyberbullying are not limited to emotional, mental, and behavioral. Victims of cyberbullying may also experience physical effects.

Eating Disorders

Children who are cyberbullied are more likely to develop eating disorders. This can include skipping meals or binge eating.

If the bullying causes body images to get worse, it can cause an eating disorder. However, the other part of this is a need for control.

When your life is spinning out of control, one of the few things you can control is food.

Sleep Disturbances

When you are under stress, your sleep can get impacted in various ways. The stress of cyberbullying can cause individuals to sleep more, experience insomnia, or have nightmares.

This lack of sleep can further aggravate feelings of stress and anxiety, and depression.

Does Cyberbullying Cause Substance Abuse?

When it comes to substance abuse from cyberbullying, while cyberbullying may not directly cause substance abuse, it is definitely a precursor. Teens who are cyberbullied are much more likely to engage in behaviors that include abusing substances.

However, the link is deeper than simply the victim of cyberbullying utilizing substances to cope with their emotions.

The Link Between Cyberbullying and Substance Abuse

There are a few links that you will see when it comes to bullying and substance abuse. These links can cause a repetitive cycle of bullying and victimizing others.

The Bully

Bullies are more likely than others to engage in substance abuse behaviors. This could be due to a desire to fit in and peer pressure.

However, teens who utilize substances have been shown to be more likely to abuse substances themselves.

The Victim

When it comes to victims, often, the use of substances becomes a way of self-medication and treating the effects of cyberbullying. However, it can also be because of a desire to fit in with their peers. 

For victims of cyberbullying, drugs and alcohol are often an escape from reality. 

The Bully-Victim

A bully-victim is an individual who is a victim of bullying and then bullies other people. You may see this a lot with kids who have a sibling or other adult in their life at home that bullies them.

For this population, bullying is an unhealthy coping mechanism that allows them to deal with the feelings they have about the bullying they are experiencing.

This population has the highest level of substance abuse disorders.

Treating the Effects of Cyberbullying and Substance Abuse

Part of treating the effects of bullying and substance abuse involves finding a program that can address every factor. At this point, it is necessary to address both the substance abuse concerns and the mental health concerns that have occurred.

Individuals who have experienced bullying need new ways to cope with the emotions and other effects of cyberbullying. Without these new coping mechanisms, treatment of a substance abuse disorder is ineffective.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

For these individuals, a program that offers dual diagnosis treatment will often be the right answer. Dual diagnosis treatment will treat mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders at the same time.

There are some common treatments you may see in a dual-diagnosis treatment program.

Talk Therapy

One of the interventions that could get used is talk therapy. During this time, you would have therapy in group and individual settings.

A common type of talk therapy utilized is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that challenges negative thought patterns.

These thought patterns might be about yourself or the world. By challenging these thoughts, you can begin to change behavior patterns such as substance abuse that are not wanted.

You can also treat mood disorders that may have resulted from cyberbullying utilizing cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Some treatment centers may offer medication-assisted treatment. While this is not the right course of treatment for everyone, for some, it may be extremely helpful.

Medication Management

For those with a mental health diagnosis, medication can help with the symptoms. This can give you the relief you need to begin working through and processing your feelings.

Medication does not always have to be a lifelong solution. For some, medication is simply the tool that gets them to the point where they can begin to process their emotions and heal.

Holistic Treatments

When you treat any condition, it is important to consider the fact that you must treat the whole person. If you treat the addiction, but not the mind, body, or soul, then treatment will not be effective.

Some holistic methods of treatment can be very effective. This can include treatments such as mindfulness, yoga, creative arts therapy, and fitness.

Get Treatment Today

Cyberbullying and substance abuse are connected in many ways. If you are struggling with the effects of cyberbullying and addiction, help is available.

You do not have to suffer alone. Sunrise Recovery Center is committed to helping you recover.

Let us be part of your path to wellness. Contact us today for questions and for more information on how we can help you in your recovery process.

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