Students who attend rural schools are more likely than their urban peers to report the use of alcohol, binge drinking and driving after drinking or using marijuana, according to the Urban and Rural Student Substance Use technical report released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), in collaboration with the Student Drug Use Survey Working Group. The report examined whether there were differences in alcohol and other drug use between youth attending schools in rural and urban communities.
“Specifically, we assessed differences in the students’ use of alcohol, marijuana or other illicit drugs; the misuse of prescription medications; and use of alcohol or marijuana before driving,” said Dr. Matthew Young, Senior Research and Policy Analyst with CCSA. “What is surprising is that urban students were no more likely than rural students to use alcohol or other drugs or to engage in any of the behaviours examined in the report — rather it was the rural students who were at greater risk of binge drinking and impaired driving.”
The results for marijuana and other illicit drug use was inconsistent across surveys — with less than half of the surveys analyzed for the report indicating that rural students were more likely to report using these substances. Prescription drug misuse did not vary appreciably by setting.
Why Conduct this Study?
Substance use by youth in Canada is an important health issue. According to the 2013 Canadian, Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, youth aged 15 to 24 years have the highest self-reported past-year use of illicit substances compared to other Canadians, and are four times more likely than adults aged 25 years and older to report harm because of drug use.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund Office of Research in 2013, Canadian students aged 15 years had the highest rate of past-year cannabis use (28%) in 2009–2010 when compared to students in other developed countries.
“We were being asked by those working with youth whether there were differences in alcohol and drug use between urban and rural students,” said Dr. Young. “We wanted to provide a cross-Canada picture so that those working with youth in these different environments could focus and tailor their efforts.”
What Does this Study Mean for Youth Drug Prevention?
“Those working with youth in rural communities may wish to place greater emphasis on programs aimed at reducing the likelihood of binge drinking and impaired driving,” said Dr. Young.
Schools and school boards, public health, health promotion and drug use prevention organizations, and law enforcement agencies are well-positioned to work with youth in their communities to prevent substance use and related risky behaviours. The findings of this report could have a bearing on the practices of these organizations.
The risks and harms of youth substance use can extend beyond those examined in this report. For example negative consequences can also include injuries, overdose, difficulties at school and problems with relationships and the law.
The Urban and Rural Student Substance Use report is the newest addition to CCSA’s youth drug prevention resources. Its development is part of CCSA’s ongoing efforts to inform and support youth drug prevention in Canada.
Where Can You Learn More?
The Urban and Rural Student Substance Use report compares urban and rural student substance use patterns using provincial and national student survey data. For more information about this research, see the full report. To find out more about CCSA’s Youth Substance Abuse Prevention and Canadian Standards for Youth Drug Prevention visit our website.