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Centre de recherche
Wednesday, March 16 2022
Press release

Bullying experiences during high school act as significant long-term risk factors for alcohol misuse

MONTREAL, March 16, 2022- A team from the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre has shown that teenagers who are bullied in high school are at greater risk of developing long-term alcohol use disorders.

The study, conducted by researcher Patricia J. Conrod, a clinical psychologist and full professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal, and doctoral student Flavie Laroque, was recently published in the scientific journal, Development and Psychopathology.

The study shows that the risk of alcohol abuse is particularly high among bullied adolescents who exhibit certain personality traits, starting in middle school. These personality traits (anxiety sensitivity, negative thinking, impulsivity, thrill-seeking) influence the type of mental health problems that are generated by peer bullying experiences (anxiety, depression, conduct problems, hyperactivity), which in turn increase the risk of addiction. Two pathways (internalization and externalization) by which bullying increases the risk of alcohol use in adolescents were identified.  

The research, which involved 3800 students from 31 Montreal high schools over a period of 5 years highlights the importance of personality traits on the immediate and long-term consequences of repeat bullying.

Prevention is possible

The PreVenture mental health and early intervention program, developed and validated by Patricia J. Conrod's team at CHU Sainte-Justine, offers hope for addressing these issues. PreVenture teaches young people to identify and work on personality traits that increase the risk of substance abuse. It helps them develop skills to better manage their emotions and reactions when faced with various personal and interpersonal challenges:

“Our study shows that school bullying experiences are significant risk factors in adolescent alcohol problems. We believe that the personality-focused approach of PreVenture can help protect them from the consequences of reported peer victimization in schools, both in terms of mental health and substance use," said Professor Conrod.”

PreVenture, a successful program

PreVenture can delay or even reduce substance use among youth. A joint study with a team led by Nicola Newton, Associate Professor at the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, shows that the PreVenture Program significantly improves substance use trajectories and associated harms compared to standard health education for up to seven years after program initiation, or into young adulthood.

Adolescents who received PreVenture school-based preventive interventions significantly reduced risk for hazardous drinking and alcohol related harm, compared with youth who received usual health education.

"Changing drinking trajectories in mid-adolescence can have a ripple effect on drinking behaviors in early adulthood, making early prevention important," Prof. Conrod emphasized.

About the two studies

The article "Personality-specific pathways from bullying victimization to adolescent alcohol use: a multilevel longitudinal moderated mediation analysis" by Flavie M. Laroque, Elroy Boers, Mohammad H. Afzali and Patricia J. Conrod, was published February 7, 2022 in Development and Psychopathology. Funding for the study was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.

The article "The 7-Year Effectiveness of School-Based Alcohol Use Prevention From Adolescence to Early Adulthood: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Universal, Selective, and Combined Interventions" by Nicola C.Newton, Lexine A. Stapinski, Patricia J. Conrod and colleagues was published November 21, 2021 in Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Funding for the study was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Centre of Research Excellence Grant and the Nicola C. Newton NHMRC Career Development Fellowship.

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About the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre  

The CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 210 research investigators, including over 110 clinician-scientists, as well as 450 graduate and postgraduate students focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The centre is an integral part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child centre in Canada.

CHU Sainte-Justine

Justine Mondoux-Turcotte
Advisor - Media Relations and External Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine

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Updated on 9/28/2022
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