Adolescent school-based bullying is a widespread problem throughout Europe and North America, affecting on average 11% of students at least weekly1,2 while a higher proportion of students are thought to suffer from victimization at least occasionally.3,4 No consensus has been reached regarding a specific definition for bullying, however, many studies utilize Olweus’s (2000)5 guidelines: “An individual is being victimized when [they are] exposed, repeatedly and over time to negative actions. It is a negative action by which someone intentionally [causes] or attempts to [cause] harm or discomfort [to another person]” [pp. 487–489]. Additionally, bullying situations reflect an imbalance of power between the victim and the bully, with bullies being stronger than their chosen victim.5
A large body of literature has consistently shown a relationship between various forms of victimization experienced during adolescence and the risk for alcohol misuse. Fewer studies have investigated this relationship within the context of adolescent victimization from bullying. A review of the literature is, therefore, needed to draw together what is already known from research as well as to highlight the apparent gaps within the literature in order to call for further research within this area.
Electronic databases as well as manual searches were conducted to find all peer-reviewed papers currently published or in press that had investigated the relationship between bullying victimization and alcohol use in adolescence. Studies were included that reported on both peer victimization from bullying as well as alcohol use (either separately or as part of a latent “substance-use” measure).
Eight studies were initially included in this review (one study was later excluded due to methodological considerations). A wide range of methodological differences between the studies were identified, with only two studies reporting on longitudinal data (up to 12 months). Studies varied in sample size, age range, and analytic approach. Five of the seven studies reported a positive association between being a victim of adolescent bullying and alcohol use.
While associations have been made between adolescent bullying victimization and alcohol use, any firm conclusions should remain tentative until further longitudinal research has been conducted. It is imperative that this relationship, as well as any potential underlying mechanisms, is further understood in order for prevention and intervention strategies to be tailored to the heterogeneous needs of adolescent victims of school-based bullying.
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