School bullying can have psychological effects that last even into adulthood.

According to stopbullying.gov, children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, health complaints and decreased academic achievement. Depression and anxiety can follow children into adulthood.

Children who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs, get into fights, engage in early sexual activity, have criminal convictions and traffic citations and be abusive to romantic partners, spouses or children once they become adults, according to stopbullying.gov.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2017 about 20% of 12- to 18-year-olds said they were bullied.

Alexander City licensed professional counselor Tom Davis specializes in addictions and trauma and said based on his experience the number has probably grown to 25%.

Davis said while dealing with patient addictions, many times they say they were affected by bullying in the past.

“A large number of folks who bully or have been bullied are in my world of addiction, substance abuse and so forth,” Davis said. “Some of them have experienced trauma. Suicidal ideation is prominent. Personally in my practice I rarely see anyone under 16 because of my specialty area. But those who I have known for years … the bully continues to bully in adulthood and that itself will lead to possible addiction, incarceration, all kinds of things the public views as negatives.”

Those bullied who have depression, anxiety or low self-esteem can get into addictions because they don’t think they deserve happiness, according to Davis.

Some of the people Davis sees who used to bully continue to do it as adults because their parents or schools never confronted them.

“It’s really kind of simple but it comes back to their upbringing, their parents, the home they are raised in,” Davis said. “If there’s confrontation there, if there’s substance abuse there, if there’s lack of parental support then that person is probably not going to change unless there’s some kind of consequence.”

According to Davis, a question asked during substance abuse recovery is what are you running from. Those who were bullied can try to run from it through substances.

“What are we trying to hide in our lives?” Davis said. “That can lead to substance abuse that can also lead to suicidal ideation.”

One of the current consequences for adults who bully is anger management, according to Davis. Patients don’t walk in to his office when they start therapy saying they were bullied or did the bullying.

Looking at family history of patients, including bullying and how parents handle it, is critical for Davis.

“If you’re really going to serve the patient and do the best you can do, the family and their upbringing is extremely important,” Davis said.

Therapists have to tell those who were bullied it wasn’t their fault for what happened. For former bullies, the therapist needs to find out if the parents ever stopped them or if they continued after warnings and punishments.

Bullying alone does not cause suicide and most children who are bullied don’t have suicidal thoughts or engage in suicidal behaviors, according to stopbullying.gov. Davis said although the adults he sees who were bullied don’t commit suicide, addiction is a slow death. He said lifelong addiction can be deadly.

According to stopbullying.org, issues that contribute to suicide risk are depression, problems at home and trauma history.

Specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, according to the website. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers and schools. The site states bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.

Davis said hard drug addiction can be compared to the addiction of smoking cigarettes because doing it over and over again can kill a person.

“Some people feel they don’t deserve happiness,” Davis said. “They’ve never experienced it. So in their active addiction, it’s kind of like a spiral.”

The spiral goes faster as the object is closer to the bottom. When those in addiction hit bottom they either recover or have an overdose, according to Davis.

It’s important to stop underage drinking and drugs before those at risk graduate high school because if they leave home, no one is there to tell them no, Davis said. Parents need to intervene to prevent these problems.

“Parents can’t control everything and I understand that but if they are aware of (bullying or substance abuse), why not act then instead of when that person is in their late 30s or 40s and winds up in treatment for 30, 40, 60 days and then is forced into recovery after they lost everything they’ve owned?” Davis said. “It’s a heavy price to pay to allow to drinking and drugs.”

The sooner children are held accountable for their actions, the better opportunity they can have to receive the help such as counseling. 

“How can a child grow up to be a productive, loving, caring, understanding person if they never experienced it?” Davis said. “That is one of the major, major issues.”

Children who bully should also go to therapy and if that doesn’t work, further steps should be taken such as anger management, according to Davis. Letting a child continue to bully others can lead to more lives being negatively affected.

“You can’t let it go,” Davis said.

Davis said bullying research is still incomplete but hopefully there will be more information in the next two to three years.

“(Bullying has been) going on since we were created one way or the other, but even if it was talked about 20, 30, 40 years ago nothing was done about it,” Davis said. “Now it’s a real issue and research is lagging in that area.”