The Connection between Bullying at Work and Substance Abuse

According to an NASUWT teaching union poll, 4 in 5 teachers say they have been bullied in the past year. 18% say they have used prescribed drugs and 17% have turned to alcohol, to cope with bullying at work.

In this blog, we’ll explore the link between bullying at work and substance abuse. Victims of bullying at work can be targeted in very obvious or subtle ways. There are some legal protections in place for harassment and physical assault, but not all forms of bullying are illegal or easy to prove. Drug and alcohol abuse is a risk for victims of bullying at work – but also for perpetrators who go unchallenged.

If bullying has led to substance abuse in your life, please call Addiction Helper about drug or alcohol treatment. Effective addiction treatment will not only deal with your alcohol or drug use (including safe detoxification); it will also treat the underlying causes of your addiction.

Bullying at Work – Definitions and Examples

Most definitions of bullying include two key ideas – mistreatment of other people and power inequality. Bullying is threatening, hurting or intimidating a person or people, usually to feel a sense of control or power over them.

Bullying at work takes many different forms. It is easy to spot when physical aggression or discriminatory language (hate speech) is used repeatedly. In the UK, you’re protected under the Equality Act 2010, if you are harassed at work because of your age, sex, disability, race, religion, transgender identity or sexual orientation. If you’re physically threatened or attacked in your workplace, you can take legal action too. Most employers have clear policies in place around their employees’ conduct in these respects, as they are legally required to provide a safe working environment.

However, bullying at work is often quite subtle or insidious. It can be excused as workplace culture or denied due to lack of evidence. Unreasonable demands from superiors to deliver a heavy workload, degrading language passed off as office banter, spreading rumours about a colleague’s personal life, or deliberately excluding a colleague from work conversations – these are all examples of bullying that are not illegal and can be much harder to prove. In these cases, victims of bullying can take months or even years to identify what’s happening – and even longer to seek help.

Victims of Bullying at Work and Substance Abuse

Whether bullying at work is obvious or subtle, victims can be severely affected by it. The NASUWT teachers’ survey found that 52% of respondents said they had experienced depression because of bullying. 41% said it affected their ability to deliver lessons. 45% had visited their GP because of bullying and some had considered self-harm. Others had left the teaching profession.

With these negative impacts in mind, it’s understandable why some people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with bullying at work. When victims of bullying feel repeatedly threatened or disempowered, it can cause or worsen mental illness. If there isn’t any obvious recourse or support available for bullying victims, then they may seek relief or escape in substance abuse.

Even when employers do have effective policies and they confront workplace bullies, supporting victims to recover fully can be overlooked. If the impacts of bullying are not fully addressed, then substance abuse can remain a coping mechanism, long after the bullying has stopped.

Perpetrators of Bullying at Work and Substance Abuse

Bullying is always a sign of dysfunctional social and relationship skills. Perpetrators often have little understanding or respect for healthy interpersonal boundaries. They often adapt or increase their bullying tactics, to hold on to power or control.

Without effective measures to stop bullies at work, often bullying will escalate. Boundaries are pushed further; victims are harmed more; the working environment becomes even more uncomfortable for colleagues, who witness bullying that goes unchallenged.

If unacceptable behaviour is tolerated, perpetrators can feel that workplace rules don’t apply to them – including alcohol and drug policies. They might use substances as part of a pattern of unhealthy behaviours at work. They also might drink or take drugs, to avoid facing the consequences of their unpleasant or harmful actions.

Bullying at Work and Substance Abuse – Break the Vicious Cycle

Whether you’re a victim or perpetrator of bullying at work, please get help if substance abuse is involved. Drugs and alcohol may feel like the way you cope or avoid your problems – but if you’re depending on substances to change the way you feel, it will only make matters worse. Employees and employers can get in touch with Addiction Helper every day of the week. We offer confidential addictions assessments so that we can recommend the most effective addiction treatment programmes.

Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0800 024 1476calling