Counsellor Helen Murphy, who examined the link between childhood bullying and substance misuse for her thesis, said “bullying featured hugely” among the men she interviewed where her focus was on “what really caused them to pick up that first drink or drug”.
As part of her research, Ms Murphy, who previously worked for three years at Fellowship House, an extended treatment programme for men that forms part of the Tabor Group addiction treatment service, interviewed men who had been residents in the house and were now in recovery.
“The overwhelming result was that childhood experiences were the significant factor in leading them to addiction and bullying featured hugely,” she said.
The types of bullying the 11 participants were exposed to included being bullied in school by peers and/or teachers and/or being bullied at home.
She said some of the men had been subjected to serious physical abuse as children, including one having a tooth pulled out at age 7.
“He was beaten up and had his teeth broken and one guy stood on him and pulled his tooth out. He was seven years old. He was on his way home from school and the guy who did it was his peer,” Ms Murphy said.
Some of the men had been subjected to verbal abuse and emotional bullying and in most cases, the bullying was prolonged.
“A lot of them started drinking or using to escape from the emotional pain that the bullying caused,” she said.
Ms Murphy said the traumatising effect of bullying on children and the potentially life-destroying consequences highlighted the need for schools to not only have anti-bullying policies, but to ensure those policies were enforced and that staff were adequately trained to do so.
“We would also be calling for greater awareness about the long-term effects of bullying,” Ms Murphy said. Too often efforts to deal with bullying ended when the bullying stopped, but Ms Murphy said what people didn’t always realise was that the child often needed long-term support.
“Their self-esteem is battered, the emotional impact can be devastating. Often a lot of work needs to be done alone with the child,” Ms Murphy said.
Ms Murphy said there also needed to be greater recognition of the contribution addiction treatment centres make to helping people deal with the underlying lifelong emotional issues that contributed to their becoming addicts in the first place.
She said of the 11 men interviewed for her research who had all been residents of Fellowship House, three were in third level education “and what they have to contribute to society is huge, given their experiences”.
Finbarr Cassidy, treatment manager at Fellowship House, said Ms Murphy’s research was very significant.
“It’s the first piece of research of its kind done in Ireland. It’s very important in terms of understanding the causes of addiction.
“In simple terms, it shows those who were bullied as children turn to a substance to kill the pain, which in turn fuels the addiction,” he said.