Peer victimization and substance use: Understanding the indirect effect of depressive symptomatology across gender

Tamika C.B. Zapolski, Alia T. Rowe, Sycarah Fisher, Devon J. Hensel, Jessica Barnes-Najor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Objective: Peer victimization in school is common, with emerging literature suggesting that it may also increase risk for substance abuse. Yet, little is known about the underlying mechanisms within this risk pathway. The objective of this study is to use a prospective 3-wave design to examine the mediating role of depressive symptomatology on the relationship between peer victimization and substance use, as well as examine if the pathway varies based on gender. Method: 801 youth between 6th and 12th grade completed surveys across three years, which included measures on school peer victimization, depression symptomatology and substance use. Models tested the mediational pathway between victimization, depressive symptoms, and substance use. Models were stratified by gender. Results: Controlling for grade and the effect of each variable across waves, a significant indirect effect of peer victimization on substance use through depressive symptoms was found for females, with a non-significant indirect effect for males. Conclusion: Results suggest that female youth who are victimized by peers engage in substance use behaviors, at least in part, due to increases in depressive symptoms. Given its effect on depression, female victims may therefore benefit from coping skills training that targets emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills in order to combat increased risk for substance use behaviors as a coping response to their victimization. Further research is warranted to better understand the risk pathway for male youth who also experience peer victimization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-166
Number of pages7
JournalAddictive Behaviors
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Adolescents
  • Depression
  • Gender
  • Peer victimization
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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