Bullying drives overweight adolescents to drink alcohol and drugs

Effects of weight-related teasing

If teenagers are bullied because of their weight or body shape, this increases the risk that they will start consuming alcohol and marijuana. The link between teasing and drug use was strongest in overweight girls, as a recent study shows.

The University of Connecticut's latest investigation found that teasing in terms of body shape or weight increased the risk of drug and alcohol use among adolescents. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Psychology of Addictive Behaviors".

Bullying can have serious consequences

Adolescents can sometimes be strongly influenced psychologically by teasing. Insults regarding weight and body shape seem to hit the adolescents particularly hard. Such teasing can increase the risk of drug and alcohol use among those affected. This relationship was particularly evident in overweight girls.

Weight bullying is very common

Bullying related to weight or body shape is very common and has many negative effects for young people. The combination of external teasing and the increased sensitivity to the body image during puberty (adolescence) can create an increased risk for the use of different substances.

The risk of bullying should not be underestimated

The results of the study raise major questions about why our society places too much emphasis on beauty and the body image of girls and women and what harmful effects this can have. We should be aware of these dangers in order to protect our children from the dangers of substance abuse and alcohol consumption, the researchers warn.

Take countermeasures

Schools and communities should specifically look at the appearance of teasing when it comes to measures to combat bullying and drug use, the research team reports in a press release. Parents in particular would play a very important role in dealing with this problem.

Many teasing occur in the family environment

Research has already shown that some of the worst examples of bullying come from parents or siblings. Families should discuss problems with their children's weight as gently and gently as possible in order to avoid negative effects, the researchers recommend.

Where did the data come from?

The current exam was conducted at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. It included a survey of 1,344 teenagers ages 11 to 14 from five public middle schools near Hartford, Connecticut. The adolescents were asked whether siblings, parents or peers had raised them about their weight, body shape or food in the past six months.

Many participants reported bullying

More than half (55 percent) of the participants reported teasing related to weight. Boys and especially girls who were not overweight were also affected by such bullying.

Teasing favored the consumption of drugs and alcohol

Participants were also asked about their alcohol and marijuana use. The results show that frequent teasing is associated with higher overall alcohol and marijuana consumption and increased binge drinking. This connection also remained in place during a follow-up examination, which was carried out six months later.

Boys take more, girls start earlier

Previous research has shown that teenage and early adolescent boys consume more alcohol and drugs, but girls start earlier than boys. These trends could be related to the social pressure that girls exert to follow unrealistic ideals of the body image.

Girls' self-esteem is sensitive

This can damage girls' self-esteem, contribute to eating disorders and self-medication by starting to use substances to better cope with teasing or to adapt to other adolescents their age.

Weight-based discrimination does great harm

It is a fallacy to assume that words and teasing do not have a serious impact on young people. The consequences of emotional abuse and verbal bullying should by no means be ignored. Weight-based discrimination appears to be one of the most common and seemingly socially recognized reasons to bully or discriminate against people. As a society, we have to deal with the damage caused by this, especially among girls, the researchers conclude. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Melanie Klinck, Anna Vannucci, Tessa Fagle, Christine McCauley Ohannessian: Appearance-related teasing and substance use during early adolescence., In Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (published 2020), Psychology of Addictive Behaviors
  • Weight-Based Bullying Linked to Increased Adolescent Alcohol, Marijuana Use, American Psychological Association (Published February 25, 2020), American Psychological Association

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