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Substance Abuse Greater Problem Among Rural Youth

Substance abuse is a bigger problem among rural youth than among their non-rural peers, with rural teens having higher rates of alcohol consumption and usage of drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. And that problem is influenced in part by rural communities limited expectations for students' futures, according to a new study.

The main point of "Social and epidemiological assessment of drug use: A case study of rural youth in Missouri," an article published in an 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Studies, was to show how two rural counties with high rates of youth drug use performed a community needs assessment to determine factors affecting children's behavior. Back issues can be seen online for a fee.

Researchers found a general acceptance among youth and adults that teens would use drugs. Additionally, youth and adults' limited outlook on education and career possibilities was an "influential factor in drug use" among youth, according to the article.

They described it as a "myopic mindframe," or the belief their lives would take place in the same rural community. Researchers reported many students expected to follow their parents' career paths, which they said limited the potential pursuit of higher education or other opportunities.

"Although, college attendance and career development are available to youth in the area, it was clear that many share a very limited foresight about life after high school," according to the study.

This problem isn't unique to rural communities in Missouri. Nationally, rural areas have lower college-going rates, with 27 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolling in college compared to the national average of 34 percent. In Missouri, 21.6 percent of residents have at least a bachelor's degree. In the two rural counties profiled in the study, those rates were 9.6 and 10.6 percent. The study did not identify those counties.

The study said health educators were in a unique position to help communities assess factors influencing students' behavior relative to drug use, and they should work to identify needed prevention and intervention strategies to affect change.

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