Teenagers living in rural areas who regularly volunteer and help others are less likely than their peers, who don’t often engage in these activities, to drink or use drugs as young adults, a new study suggests.
Previous studies have suggested teenagers in rural areas may be more likely to use illicit substances earlier, which puts them at risk for developing addiction problems, Health Canal reports. Rural communities often have fewer recreation centers and organized activities, the article notes.
The study included 531 rural teens who were surveyed in grades 10-12, and again in early adulthood. They were asked about their time spent volunteering and helping others, as well as substance use. The researchers found rural teens who frequently volunteer and help others are less likely to engage in substance use in young adulthood than those who infrequently participate in these activities.
“There is a tendency for youths to take part in risky behaviors if they are not engaged in positive, structured activities,” lead researcher Gustavo Carlo of the University of Missouri said in a news release. “Many rural communities have suffered from the economic downturn and are unable to offer opportunities for youth activities. Financial stress can also affect the psychological health of parents making them less cognizant of how children spend their time.”
Carlo says his research indicates more programs that promote volunteering and helping others can decrease the chance that rural teenagers will use illicit substances in adulthood. His findings appear in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.