Assessing the Perceptions and Usage of Substance Abuse among Teenagers in a Rural Setting

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1 Journal of Rural Community Psychology Vol E12 No 2 Assessing the Perceptions and Usage of Substance Abuse among Teenagers in a Rural Setting Regina Fults McMurtery Jackson State University Department of School, Community and Rehabilitation Counseling Jackson, MS Margaret S. Wallace Jackson State University Department of School, Community and Rehabilitation Counseling Jackson, MS Tammy T. Webb North Carolina A&T State University School of Education Greensboro, NC Dion Porter Jackson State University Department of School, Community and Rehabilitation Counseling Jackson, MS ABSTRACT This study investigated the perception of drug use among males and females in a rural setting, their history of drug use, and the age of onset. The sample for this study consisted of 50 participants from grades 8 th, 10 th, and 12 th from a small, public rural Junior/Senior high school in the Southern United States. Although the study rendered no statistically significant differences, several issues arose from the research, including specifically designed intervention programs and earlier implementation of alcohol and drug programming. It is believed that information obtained by this study may facilitate and enhance alcohol and drug programs in rural school settings.

2 INTRODUCTION Studies that have focused on rural substance use and abuse have identified a changing image of rural life. Gundy (2006) reported that there are elevated rates of drug use, including crystal meth, among rural youth. It was also reported that despite these trends mental health workers in rural schools receive less training and are available for fewer hours than those in urban schools. Its threat to teens and children is aggravated in rural, small and mid-size towns, cities, and counties that lack the resources and experience available to large metropolitan concentrations to combat this problem. Smaller communities have greater difficulty in providing accessible drug treatment programs and attracting trained substance abuse professionals, school nurses, and counselors (Kelly, Comello & Edwards, 2004). Many Americans tend to view drug addiction and abuse involving teens as an urban and metropolitan issue. Modern trends have shown that from 1976 to 2000, drug use and abuse among teens have no respect for geographic boundaries (Swaim, Henry & Baez, 2004). Among rural and mid-size cities, drug and alcohol use are now higher in some instances than in the nation s larger urban cities. Oetting, Edwards, Kelly, & Beauvais (1997) suggested that at one time, rural adolescents were protected from drug use, but findings indicated that the prevalence of adolescent drug use was fairly constant across areas of the country defined as rural areas. The authors also examined personal and social factors that placed rural youth at risk and called into question aspects of rural communities, schools, family life, and peer group associations that may contribute to increased drug use among rural youth. Edwards (1997) concluded that rates of substance use for rural and urban adolescents were converging. The etiology of substance use among rural and urban populations were similar, presumably because the impact of family, peers, and school on drug use is relatively constant. Additionally, variability across rural communities suggests that community-level factors influence use. The author suggested that it was the third area in which rural-based research generally has been lacking. Rural communities differ greatly along a number of dimensions such as population density, distance from metropolitan areas, ethnic and racial makeup, age and gender profiles, levels of unemployment and poverty, type of employment base, availability of medical/mental health facilities and other treatment services, and prevailing attitudes about the importance of community efforts for the prevention of substance use. Edwards (1997) also reported that research was beginning to show that while rates of alcohol and drug use were considerably lower in rural than metropolitan communities, the gap was closing. A study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors entitled No Place to Hide: Substance abuse in Mid-size Cities and Rural America (2000) reported that rural teens were using alcohol and illicit drugs at higher rates than urban teens. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2005) reported that among youths aged 12 to 17, the rate of binge alcohol drinking was higher among rural areas (non-metropolitan), 11.9 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in large metropolitan areas. However, this article did report that current illicit drug use in metropolitan areas was slightly higher than in rural areas, 8.4 percent compared to 6.9 percent.

3 Zavela, Battistich and Gooselink (2004) concluded that rural teens are twice as likely as urban teens to use amphetamines, 34 percent more likely to use marijuana, and 50 percent more likely to use cocaine. Henry, Swaim and Slater (2005) reported that one of the largest increases in drug use among rural teens was for the illicit drug, ecstasy. Many school leaders are looking for reasons to explain why trends are showing an increase in drug use. School leaders suggest that schools are a reflection of our society, and problems that we see in society will show up in schools. The decline of the family structure is one factor that can t be ignored. There are more single-parent families and more two-career families. The greater demands and stressors on the family contributes to longer work hours and less quality time as a family leaving adolescents vulnerable to negative external influences. Swaim (2003) reported that eighth graders in rural areas were more likely to have used inhalants, heroin, and twice as likely to have smoked cigarettes. Tenth graders in rural areas exceeded those in large urban areas for cocaine, amphetamines, crack, inhalants, hallucinogens, LSD, heroin, steroids, and tranquilizers than their urban counterparts. Among twelfth graders, rates in rural areas exceeded those in large urban areas for cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, inhalants, crack, and tranquilizers. The data presented here clearly illustrated that even the smallest communities were not immune from substance use and abuse problems. Substance abuse is no longer a phenomenon limited to large cities. Young teens in small mid-size cities and rural areas are according to research trends more likely to use and abuse substances than their peers in larger metropolitan areas. Thus, the purposes of this study were to investigate the perception of drug use when comparing males and females in a rural setting, their history of drug use, and the age of onset. Specifically, the following research questions were investigated: What are the perceptions, self-report, and age at onset of drug use among rural students? What differences, if any, exists between male and female drug usage among rural students? METHOD Participants The sample for this study consisted of 50 participants from grades 8 th, 10 th, and 12 th from a small, public rural Junior/Senior high school in the Southern United States. The total population of 8 th, 10 th, and 12 th grade students (n=239) were given parental consent forms for participation. Of the total population, 53 students returned the survey with signed consent forms by a parent or guardian. Out of the 50 participants, (56%) were females and (44%) males. The majority (96%) reported race as African American, (2%) White, and (2%) Hispanic/Latino. In terms of grade levels, (26%) reported 8 th grade, (34%) 10 th grade and (40%) 12 th grade. In the breakdown of male to female participants with regards to grade levels, (14%) female 8 th graders, (12%) male 8 th graders, (14%) female 10 th graders, (20%) male 10 th graders, (28%) female 12 th graders and (12%) male 12 th graders. Instrumentation A two-part questionnaire was constructed based on research on student substance abuse and other risk factors. In the first portion of the questionnaire, respondents provided demographic

4 information (gender, age, ethnicity, grade level, parental residence). In the second section, respondents were asked about their perceptions, current drug use, and age of onset of different types of substances. A Likert-type scale, ranging from 1(none) to 5 (very many), was utilized. Items referencing age of onset also utilized a Likert Scale ranging from 1(never tried) to 5 (very many). Procedure The guidelines for conducting survey research suggested by Dillman (2000) were used, and all potential participants and their guardians received a copy of a cover letter that outlined the purpose of the research and voluntary participation information. In addition, a parental consent form was attached to the survey. Out of the 239 surveys distributed to parents and/or guardians of the 8 th, 10 th, and 12 th grade population, a total of 53 were returned with signed consent forms. Students with signed consent forms were asked to return to their homeroom during their lunch period to complete the short survey. The data was then collected and analyzed utilizing the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) 13.0 program (2006). RESULTS To address the first research question, regarding the perceptions, self-report, and age at onset of drug use, we calculated descriptive statistics. In the perception of their peer s drug usage the students perceived higher frequency of perceived use among beer (38%), alcohol (44%), and marijuana (58%) than in any of the other drugs and alcohol listed on the survey. In the self-report category of drug and alcohol use the highest frequency of self-report use was found with beer (58%), alcohol (56%), and marijuana (70%). In the age category of the survey beer (44%), alcohol (48%), and marijuana (54%) showed more frequency of use at the onset age of years than any other drug or alcohol. The second research question regarding differences between males and females, a 2-tailed (t) test generated the group statistics. There was no statistically significant difference shown in the perception of drug use by gender, t(46) =.113, p >.05. There was no significant difference in the actual self-report of drug use by gender, t(46) =.886, p >.05. There was no significant difference at age reported of first drug usage by gender, t(46) =.407, p >.05. DISCUSSION The purpose of this study was to examine students at a rural junior/senior high school regarding perceptions of drug use, self-report, and the age of onset of drug usage. The data collected from this information was then compared by gender. Although the study rendered no statistically significant differences, several issues are clear. First, the current findings from this study did not appear to follow suit with recent trends in rural teen drug usage. Recent research trends suggested that drug use among rural teens is higher in certain parts of the country than those in some urban and metropolitan cities (Swaim et al., 2004).

5 Although this study was limited to one junior and senior high school in the rural South, no research was completed with students in urban and mid-size towns. Due to the sensitive nature of the survey and the interpretation of the results from the data collected, it is the researcher s position that some responses may have been biased. Students may have been reluctant to truthfully answer the questions on the survey. This possible explanation is based on an examination of the data. In the self-report part of the survey some students denied ever using a drug or alcohol, but in the age of onset of use, admitted to trying a drug or alcohol at a certain age. This occurrence happened several times. Recommendations for future research include administering a survey that will possibly allow for more honesty and decrease the possibility that students will be hesitant about responding truthfully to the questions on drug usage. Generalizations to the larger population are cautioned due to the small sample size. Thus, increasing the sample size to allow for additional analysis would also be recommended. As well, this research would benefit from two administrations of the survey, one at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end of a school year to check for consistency of responses over an extended period of time. In conclusion, more specific research literature, targeting specific rural schools and the impact that drugs, and alcohol usage has had on those schools is needed. Schools, students, teachers, administrators, families, and communities would benefit from better intervention and prevention programs developed and implemented in junior and senior high schools. Even more beneficial would be the addition of these programs in elementary schools. REFERENCES Dillman, D.A. (2000). Mail and internet surveys: The tailored design method. New York:Wiley. Edwards (1997). Drug and alcohol use among youth in rural communities. In E. Robertson, Z. Sloboda, G. Boyd, L. Beatty, & N. Kozel. Rural substance abuse: State of knowledge and issues (NIDA Research Monograph No. 168). Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Gundy, K.V. (2006). Substance abuse in rural and small town America. Reports on small town America. Retrieved on October 11, 2006 from Henry, K. L., Swaim, R. C., & Slater, M. D. (2005). Intraindividual variability of school bonding and adolescents beliefs about effects of substance aspirations. Prevention Science, 6(2), Kelly, K. J., Comello, M. L. G., & Edwards, R. W. (2004). Attitudes of rural middle-school youth toward alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and violence. The Rural Educator, 25(3), No place to hide: Substance abuse in mid-size cities and rural America. (January 2000). commissioned by the United States conference of mayors. Retrieved on September 18, 2006 from

6 Oetting, E. R., Edwards, R.W., Kelly, K., & Beauvais, F. (1997). Risk and protective factors for drug use among rural American youth. In E. Robertson, Z. Sloboda, G. Boyd, L. Beatty, & N. Kozel. Rural substance abuse: State of knowledge and issues (NIDA Research Monograph No. 168). Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) (2006) 11.5 & Swaim, R.C. (2003). Individual and school level effects of perceived harm, perceived availability, and community size on marijuana use among grade students: A random effects model. Prevention Science, 4, Swaim, R. C., Henry, K. L., & Baez, N. E. (2004). Risk-taking, attitudes toward violence, and violent behavior among rural middle school youth. Violence & Victims, 19, Zavela, K.J., Battistich, V., Gooselink, C.A., & Dean, B.J. (2004). Say yes first: followup of a five-year rural drug prevention program. Journal of Drug Education, 34 (1)

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