Research supports redesigning anti-bullying programs

ABINGTON, Pa. — A new study suggests differences in substance abuse between male and female bullying victims should lead to redesigning anti-bullying efforts.

The research, published in the Journal of Drug Issues, suggests that repeated bullying during childhood is a predictor of developmental differences in substance use among males and females across extended periods of their lives.

Two key findings emerged in the article, "Sex Differences in Childhood Bullying Victimization and Trajectories of Substance Use From Adolescence to Adulthood":

  • From middle adolescence to young adulthood, male victims reported faster increases in cigarette and marijuana use compared to non-bullied males. Female victims reported faster increases in cigarette use compared to non-bullied females.
  • From middle adolescence to middle adulthood, male victims reported slower declines in cigarette and marijuana use, while female victims reported slower declines in alcohol and cigarette use.
Abington criminal justice

Eric J. Connolly, assistant professor of criminal justice, Penn State Abington

Credit: Penn State

The author of the study, Penn State Abington biosocial criminologist Eric J. Connolly, said the results support rethinking current anti-bullying programming.

“Given the substantial impact of substance abuse on the healthcare system in the United States, the results from this study can be interpreted as support for early bullying intervention programs aimed at addressing the common and unique needs of male and female victims,” Connolly, assistant professor of criminal justice, said.

There are a financial as well as health and social benefits to reassessing anti-bullying efforts.

“Proper identification and treatment of victims may help reduce the risk of substance use habit formation later in life, which may help ameliorate the financial burden of substance abuse on the U.S. healthcare system.” Connolly said.

Prior to the publication of Connolly's paper, comparatively less research examined the male-versus-female association between bullying victimization and developmental growth in substance use. This study addressed the gap in the literature by analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Connolly earned his doctorate in criminology and criminal justice from Florida State University. His work has appeared in journals such as Child Development, Criminology, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, and Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 

Connolly often collaborates with Abington students on research projects for the college's prestigious undergraduate research program, known as ACURA. 


Penn State Abington, formerly the Ogontz campus, offers baccalaureate degrees in 18 majors at its suburban location just north of Philadelphia. Nearly half of our 4,000 students complete all four years at Abington, with opportunities in undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more. The Lions Gate residence hall will open in August.