Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Violence and Drug Use in Rural Teens: National Prevalence Estimates from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Violence and Drug Use in Rural Teens: National Prevalence Estimates from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Article excerpt

In the wake of multiple school shootings over the past several years, preventing and treating teen violence have become national priorities. Healthy People 2010 lists reductions in physical fighting, carrying weapons at school, and attempted suicides as 3 objectives for health improvement among adolescents. (1) Nationwide in 2002, 33% of adolescents in grades 9 to 12 were in a physical fight, 17% carried a weapon, 9% were threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and 10% experienced dating violence. (2) Among 15- to 19-year-olds, homicide and suicide are the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, accounting for a quarter of all deaths in this age group. (3)

Curbing drug use among teens is also a national priority. Four of the 7 goals for substance use and abuse in Healthy People 2010 address adolescent behaviors. These include increasing the proportion of adolescents who remain alcohol free and reducing past month use of illicit substances, steroids, and inhalants among adolescents. (1) Although overall drug use by teens declined by 18% from 2001 and 2004, rates of painkiller and inhalant abuse have increased and other drug use rates remain high. (4) For example, in 2004 three fourths (77%) of all 12th graders had tried alcohol and roughly half of all 12th graders had used cigarettes (53%), marijuana (46%), or any illicit drug (51%) at least once. (5)

Violent behavior and substance use appear to be mutually reinforcing. For example, youth who carry weapons are more likely to consume alcohol or to smoke. (6) Likewise, illicit drug use during youth is a significant predictor of violent behavior, (7) and a significant portion of adolescents who use drugs engage in physical fighting while under the influence. (8) Drug use and violence are also associated with victimization and suicide. For example, both female and male victims of forced sexual intercourse report higher rates of heavy cigarette use and binge drinking, as well as suicidal contemplation. (9) Likewise, being the victim of bullying is consistently related to engaging in violent behaviors. (10) Conversely, research has found that alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use all increase with higher levels of victimization. (11) The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide and other recent research recognize substance abuse as a primary risk factor for suicidal behavior. (12-15)

Violence, Drug Use, and Rural Teens

Traditionally, research on teen violence has been based on data from large urban areas, which excluded the rural experience. (16) This focus on urban violence most likely reflects a stereotype that rural areas protect youth from exposure to and participation in violent behavior. (17, 18) More recent research, however, has recognized the unique crime and violence issues of rural areas and found surprisingly high levels of violent behaviors and victimization among rural youth. For example, a study comparing teens from rural, urban, and suburban school districts in New York found rural teens to be more likely than urban or suburban teens to report being the victim of dating violence. (19) A related study in New York showed significantly higher risk for rural teens of carrying a weapon at school, carrying a gun on or off school grounds, and using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs. (20)

Research on teen drug use has also focused on the urban experience, but studies of drug use among rural teens are starting to emerge. One such study compared substance abuse prevalence across 3 types of rural areas (farm, country, and small towns) and found less drug use in the least populated places. (21) Another study in west-central Ohio found that boys in rural schools reported less use of marijuana, inhalants, and LSD and fewer recent episodes of drunkenness than boys in suburban schools. (22) These studies suggest that rural life may offer a protective effect against adolescent drug use, but the scarcity of research in this area indicates a significant gap in the literature. …

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