(Reuters Health) - Children and teens who are bullied are more than twice as likely as peers who are not victimized to take painkillers, a study of school kids in Iceland suggests.
"We found a high frequency of pain medication use among both non-bullied and bullied students," said lead study author Pernilla Garmy of Kristianstad University in Sweden.
"However, the use of analgesics was significantly higher among bullied students even when controlling for pain, age, gender and socioeconomic status," Garmy said by email. "Bullied students tended to experience more pain than the non-bullied students, and bullied students were twice as likely to use pain medication even when controlling for experienced pain."
While bullying has long been linked to an increased risk of suffering from chronic pain and a variety of physical and mental health complaints, research to date hasn't offered a clear picture of how bullying influences painkiller use, the researchers note in Acta Paediatrica.
For the current study, Garmy's team examined data on 10,626 youth 11 to 15 years old, including 585 children and teens who reported being bullied at least two or three times a month.
Youth who reported chronic pain were more than seven times as likely as those who didn't experience pain on a weekly basis to take painkillers, the study found.
Compared with students who didn't experience regular bullying, those who did were more likely to take pain relievers for headaches and for pain in the stomach, back, neck and shoulders.
Headaches and stomach pain were the most common reasons for painkiller use.
About 46 percent of kids who were bullied took painkillers for headaches, as did 30 percent of children who weren't bullied.
And, 31 percent of youth who were bullied took pain relievers for stomach discomfort, as did 14 percent of kids who weren't bullied.
Most often, young people took paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen to ease their pain.
"My hypothesis of the link between bullying and painkiller use could be that if you are feeling satisfied and safe, and then get a headache, you might cope with the pain without medication," Garmy said. "But if you are feeling sad and unsecure - a common experience by bullied children and adolescents - the pain might be overwhelming and there is a need for use of analgesics."
The study wasn't designed to prove whether or how bullying might cause or amplify pain, or lead victims to take medication.
"It's impossible to know, based on this study alone, whether bullying led to more health problems and subsequent pain medication use or (if) youth with more health problems experience more bullying," said Valerie Earnshaw, a researcher in human development and family sciences at the University of Delaware in Newark.
"But, this study's findings are consistent with other studies showing that youth who experience bullying report greater psychosomatic health complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches, and pain, later on," Earnshaw, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.
Still, the results should serve as a reminder to parents about the importance of asking children about their school experiences, including whether children have been bullied, Earnshaw said.
"This is especially the case if children are showing signs that they are experiencing mental or physical health problems," Earnshaw advised. "If parents suspect that their children are experiencing bullying, they should reach out to their children's school for help with addressing the behavior . . . and reach out to their children's pediatricians."
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2LP3Jll Acta Paediatrica, online May 9, 2019.