Direct effects and interactions of individual characteristics, peers, parents, schools, and community influences on rural adolescent substance use and school connectedness
Proctor, Christina Dawn
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Within the past decade, overall prevalence of legal and illegal drug use has decreased, but the use of alcohol and other drugs during adolescence remains a current public health problem. Among rural youth, alcohol and other drug use increased over the past decade. Past research on contextual factors influencing drug use revealed that protective factors in the community, school, and home all interact to influence youth drug use; however, these studies lack information about the casual pathways and interactions of protective factors and their role in preventing drug use. Few studies have examined school connectedness as a mediator between contextual factors and drug use. In addition, research in rural areas is lacking, and those studies focusing on adolescents in rural areas often do not account for moderating effects of demographic variables, cultural influences, community connectedness, and the influence of religion. The current study examined a structural model based on an ecological framework to determine how protective factors deter rural adolescent substance use and promote school connectedness. Structural equation modeling was utilized to analyze the relation between these constructs. Data were collected from a convenience sample of middle and high schools from three rural school districts in Georgia. Paper-and-pencil surveys were used to collect data from 1059 students. Results provide evidence that contextual factors from the individual, family/peer, school, and community level all directly or indirectly influence rural adolescent drug use, but individual and school variables play the largest role in preventing rural adolescent substance use. In particular, refusal efficacy and social norms were significant protective factors for all types of substance use. School connectedness was the third strongest protective factor for all substance use and mediated the relation between many contextual factors and substance use. Contextual factors from all levels of the socio-ecological framework have differing effects based on type of drug use, race, gender, and age. Discussion of the study results includes implications for future research and practice.