Academic journal article Child Study Journal

Rural Adolescent Perceptions of Alcohol and Other Drug Resistance

Academic journal article Child Study Journal

Rural Adolescent Perceptions of Alcohol and Other Drug Resistance

Article excerpt

A complete census of 361 rural high school students in grades 9 through 12 participated in a study to examine their perceptions of drug resistance difficulties when offered beer, marijuana, and hard drugs. For triangulation purposes, a mixed methodological approach was used involving the collection of qualitative data using focus groups and a semi-structured questionnaire. Students were classified according to degree of drug use. A content analysis of responses resulted in 15 response categories, with nonusers reporting the widest range of explanations for drug resistance difficulty. This range of responses suggests that drug resistance difficulty is attributed to several factors. Peer pressure was cited most frequently by nonusers, and seldom by heavy users. Responses associating drug refusal difficulty to emotional state and pleasure seeking were more characteristic of the high frequency users. Implications for the high frequency groups are discussed. Low frequency users reported reasons for resistance dif ficulty related to a need for peer acceptance and inclusion, desire to have fun, alcohol and drug availability, and curiosity. Interventions that address these factors early in the drug induction phase may successfully alter the course toward healthier, alternative behaviors for this high risk, low frequency user group.


Results of NIDA's (The National Institute on Drug Abuse) 1998 Monitoring the Future study on youth trends, released December 18, 1998, revealed stability in illicit drug use among teenagers for the second year in a row. While a slight decrease in the percentage of students using illicit drugs was found, 29.0% of 8th graders, 44.9% of 10th graders, and 54.1% of 12th graders reported having used illicit drugs in their lifetime. Twelfth graders showed a slight increase from 1997 in their reporting of having five or more drinks in a two-week period.

These data reveal continuing high levels of illegal substance use among America's youth, placing the United States with the highest substance use rates in the industrialized world (Falco, 1992). While drug use is a multidetermined phenomenon, social influence represents an important explanatory factor. Affiliation with drug-using peers remains the single strongest correlate of alcohol and other drug use. More than a decade ago, Wills, Baker, and Botvin (1989) discovered that socially active students found themselves in more situations with social pressure for substance abuse. Mitigating this social risk factor remains problematic at the dawn of a new century, despite community-based and school-based prevention efforts.

Recognizing the importance of the social context of drug use, many school-based prevention programs (e.g., Drug Abuse Resistance Education) focus on drug resistance training to better equip students with skills to combat peer influence. However, the effectiveness of such programs is inconclusive. Evaluations of project D.A.R.E., the most widely used school-based prevention program in the middle grades, have revealed small effects (Ennet, Tobler, Ringwalt, and Flewelling, 1994). One explanation may lie with the strength and resiliency of normative perceptions. Donaldson, Graham, and Hansen's (1994), and Donaldson, Graham, Piccinin, and Hansen's (1995) research lends some support to this hypothesis, finding that adolescents' perceptions of the prevalence of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana use predicted subsequent drug use and mediated the effects of successful normative educational interventions. Clearly, adolescent perceptions of peer use are important and seemingly linked to resistance failure.

Previous research has shown that peer association accounts for over fifty percent of the variance in drug use. Peer cluster theory may offer an overly simplistic, yet reasonable explanation for this finding, stating that perceptions and beliefs about drugs are shaped by peer cultures (Oetting and Beauvais, 1987). …

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