Drug Abuse in Rural Areas [Infographic]


Drug Abuse in Rural Areas

One of the most common misconceptions about drug abuse today is the belief that drug addiction and abuse are only inner city problems. The truth is that drug abuse is everywhere, and it’s growing at an alarming rate in rural areas that lack the resources and infrastructure to provide adequate education, support and health services to individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.

In other words, rural areas that are most vulnerable are often the ones that have the fewest resources in place to assist those who are living with dependencies on drugs or alcohol.

rural areas have fewest resources for drug and alcohol dependency

Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Rural America

According to the Maine Rural Health Research Center, teens in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol than their counterparts in larger cities, with the most remote rural areas reporting the highest rates of alcohol uses. Teens in rural areas are also likely to begin drinking at early ages and to engage in risky binge drinking.

A recent study titled “Substance Abuse by Youth and Young Adults in Rural America” reveals that alcohol isn’t the only substance being used and abused by rural teens. If you are a teen in a rural area, you are more likely to use methamphetamines than teens in urban areas.

The further from a larger city you live, the greater the risk that you will abuse methamphetamines. Meth abuse has also found its way onto Native American lands in a really big way. The University of New Hampshire reports that Indian Health Services hospitals treated only 137 people for stimulant abuse in 1997, but those numbers increased to 4,946 by 2004.

The news gets even more disturbing for rural parents, though. CBS news states that eighth graders living in rural areas are more likely to use certain substances at alarming rates, such as the following:

  • 104 percent more likely to use amphetamines (including methamphetamines)
  • 83 percent more likely to use crack cocaine
  • 70 percent more likely to have gotten drunk
  • 50 percent more likely to use cocaine
  • 34 percent more likely to smoke marijuana
  • Twice as likely to smoke cigarettes


drug abuse in rural areas

The problem isn’t only that drugs are becoming a big problem for rural America. The problem is that they are taking aim at the youth who call these small towns and communities home.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting adults, however. The CBS report also indicates that drug use among adults was fairly equal in urban and rural communities.

Why Is There Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Rural Communities?

Anytime there is a sizable drug and alcohol problem in an area, it becomes necessary to explore why the problem is so big. Only when you understand why drug and alcohol abuse is finding its way into your community can you begin to take action to prevent addiction from getting a foothold.

Rural Help Information Hub, formerly the Rural Assistance Center, suggests that many of the following contribute to the alarming rise of alcohol and drug abuse in rural communities:

  • Poverty is rampant.
  • Educational attainment is low.
  • Unemployment rates are high.
  • Communities are isolated.
  • Few drug and alcohol education and prevention initiatives are in place.
  • There is engagement in high-risk behaviors among residents.
  • New drug dealers are targeting the area.
  • There is less access to medical care.
  • A lack of local economic and educational opportunities exists.
  • People self-medicate for depression and other undiagnosed psychological conditions.
  • Transportation can be a challenge as a result of distance to urban or metropolitan locations.
  • People are looking for an escape from reality with a temporary buzzed or drunk feeling.

You might be asking what poverty has to do with addiction. Wouldn’t poverty make it that much more difficult to buy drugs? This is true, but the stress of constant worries over money, paying the mortgage and feeding the family can lead to creative methods for obtaining and abusing drugs.

Often, though, drugs lead to even deeper debt and greater stress about money. In many ways, drug abuse and poverty becomes a cycle that keeps repeating itself, making it more difficult to overcome the addiction and end the poverty cycle once and for all.

In fact, if you live in America’s heartland, you may not even understand the potential consequences of drug and alcohol use and abuse. You may not understand how easy it is to become addicted or the physical and mental health consequences repeated use and abuse of drugs and alcohol can cause. Even if you’ve been told, you may feel that it can’t happen to you. You’re careful. You won’t get addicted.

These are just a few of the potential consequences of drug abuse in rural America:

  • Perpetuates poverty
  • Causes poor academic performance
  • Leads to higher dropout rates
  • Changes the physical structure of your brain
  • Increases risks of sexually transmitted diseases (and pregnancy if you’re female)
  • Makes it difficult to get and maintain a job
  • Ruins relationships with family, friends and loved ones
  • Has negative health consequences both long and short-term
  • Raises risks of early death due to overdose or suicide

transportation a challenge for people in rural areas getting treatment

Some of the consequences are more devastating than others, depending on your frame of mind and priorities in life. If you’re one of the many people living in rural America because you feel there is no way out, drug addiction may be the biggest prison there is.

How Do Drugs Get to Rural Areas?

Rural America wasn’t always a target for drug dealers and makers. In recent years, though, drug dealers from larger cities have started branching out in search of new markets, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This has led them outside of larger cities and urban environments into the rural areas of the heartland.

how do drugs get to rural areas

That isn’t the only reason drugs have made their way into rural America, though. Your friends and neighbors may have discovered that it’s fairly simple — though extremely risky — to make homemade drug varieties, like methamphetamine. The isolation of rural areas makes it easy to do so without detection, creating a homegrown crop of drugs that are easily available throughout small rural communities.

Because these towns are so small, they tend to be close knit, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. This means you don’t have to work hard at all to find access to drugs in the area.

Why Is It So Difficult for People in Rural Areas to Get Help for Drug and Alcohol Addictions?

You’ve probably learned by now that people in rural America are quick to offer help, but slow to ask for it. Their pride in self and community runs deep and is very admirable in most things.

When it comes to addiction to drugs or alcohol, however, it can be extremely costly. Addiction isn’t something you simply walk away from. There are side effects, withdrawal symptoms and chemical changes in your brain that can have a substantial impact on your health if you try to quit on your own.

addiction isn't something you can walk away from

Unfortunately, there are bigger issues at play in rural America that could jeopardize your efforts to get help for your addiction once you do make the decision to do so. These are a few that deserve top billing:

  1. Shortage of treatment centers. Most rural communities lack the population to warrant the establishment of a local treatment center. They are costly to operate and won’t open in remote areas. This makes it more difficult for those in need of treatment to seek it out in moments of crisis.
  1. Lack of public transportation. Transportation obstacles are no laughing matter — particularly for those who are seeking treatment after a license has been suspended. Rural areas simply lack the infrastructure to offer transportation, so once again, you might not be inclined to ask for help — especially if it means telling others about your struggles with sobriety.
  1. Social stigma of substance abuse. Despite the many advances in science that show addiction is a physiological and medical condition, there is still a social stigma associated with addiction that few people are inclined to open themselves up to. This sense of being stigmatized is even greater in small communities where everyone seems to know your secrets — and no one ever forgets. You’d rather not share your addiction story with people in the community.
  1. A lack of detox centers. Since many addictions can’t be safely treated without going through an intensive detox process, the need for detox centers is essential for treating most addictions. This means you’ll probably have to travel to get the treatment you need. If you’re already suffering from economic hardships, that aspect can add further strain and may jeopardize any progress you make (if you’re traveling back and forth)

Detox centers are essential for treating addictions

  1. Poverty. Fears over an inability to pay for treatment prevent many people from seeking the treatment they need. In rural America, poverty is a very real and pervasive concern. It is everywhere and is very difficult to escape — especially when all it takes is one bad crop to set a farm back significantly in terms of finances.

financial struggle prevents some people from seeking treatment

  1. Lack of local counselors qualified to assist in drug addiction treatments. It isn’t easy to find a counselor you can trust to work with on something as important as addiction recovery. You need counselors who have specific experience and training to help patients overcome addiction. In small towns, those are few and far between — as many counselors focus on more generalized practices to meet local demand.

The sad truth remains that people in rural areas have many obstacles to overcome in order to get the help they need to make an effective recovery.

Which Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused in Rural Communities?

Alcohol remains the primary drug of choice in rural areas, according to the Rural Urban Chartbook. It is quickly followed by other drugs, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Stimulants
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine

Today, rural America is becoming infested with these drugs, and it’s giving way to an increase in overdose and crime — including theft of farm equipment, like tractors. The most dramatic rise in the location of drug-related deaths, according to American Journal of Preventative Medicine, is in rural areas.

Heroin on the Rise

Another drug problem in rural America that is on the rise is heroin. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reports that heroin use is soaring in rural areas. Not only is heroin use on the rise, but ABC News shares that the new heroin entering the market is “70 percent to 90 percent pure.” This allows users who aren’t interested in injecting the drug to get a strong high from inhaling or smoking it. Even worse, dealers are targeting a younger audience.

The problem with heroin, aside from the fact that it is highly lethal and people — even kids – are dying from it, is that it is so highly addictive. U.S. News and World Report discusses the fact that Maryland reported a 41 percent rise in heroin deaths from 2011 to 2012. This came after a four-year period when these types of deaths were in a state of decline.

Once you’re addicted to heroin, quitting is even more difficult because the withdrawal symptoms are brutal if you’re attempting to do it alone. This is one prominent reason why more detox centers in rural areas are needed than ever before.

41 percent increase in heroin deaths

In the past, heroin dealers weren’t targeting rural communities. This meant that most of the addiction was isolated to central areas. That isn’t the case currently, since the drug’s distribution has moved to Main Street, USA. Now, areas that haven’t had the infrastructure to combat addiction and withdrawal in the past, desperately need it.

Prescription Drugs and Rural Areas

Prescription drugs present different kinds of problems in rural areas. Painkillers (opioids) are among the most commonly abused — so much so that legislation has been presented in many states, including Florida, Kentucky, New York, Maine and West Virginia to make it more difficult for people to obtain prescription painkillers, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Various laws recommend things like requiring ID to pick up prescriptions — making it more difficult for patients to “doctor shop” — and to establish prescription limits. This is important as most new users (75.2%) of heroin were introduced to opioids through use of prescription drugs, making prescription drugs a major gateway drug for heroin.

new users of heroin were introduced to opioids through use of prescription drugs

The demographics of heroin users has also changed over the past 50 years. The drug that was once considered a problem for inner city minority populations has now moved outside of urban centers and mostly involves white men and women who are in their late 20s.

How Can Rural Communities Combat Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

While it isn’t economically feasible to have drug addiction recovery centers located in every rural area throughout the country, or even most of them, there are steps being taken to address addiction to alcohol and drugs even in remote locations.

One step that is being taken in many areas is training primary care physicians to recognize signs of addiction and address those signs in their capacities as primary physicians.

The purpose of this is so they can identify the patients who are abusing substances and can encourage these patients to seek necessary treatments. Doctors can also make referrals to nearby resources for treatment assistance.

One organization that is leading the way is the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), which is the country’s leading professional society for addiction medicine. It represents more than 3,700 clinicians, physicians and other healthcare professionals with an emphasis on substance abuse, addiction and treatment.

Not only does the ASAM offer a variety of courses for physicians to attend, but it also offers distance learning opportunities so physicians in remote areas can benefit from their Continuing Medical Education, or CME courses at their convenience.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some attention focused on local options for people in need of treatment for drug and alcohol addictions. If you can’t travel far distances, these local types of services may prove useful.

There is a big push to integrate behavioral health treatment with primary care initiatives. The belief is that by doing so, it will help to ease the stigma associated with behavioral health. Additionally, it will also provide the opportunities for providers in remote areas to work and network together while giving people like you, who are dealing with addiction, an opportunity to get help without feeling stigmatized or “outed” in the process.
integrate behavioral health treatment and drug treatment
Get Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction in Rural America

There comes a time when you must make a conscious decision to seek treatment for your drug abuse and addiction problem, whether you live in a vibrant urban city or a remote, rural location. You can’t wait for the ideal moment, or you’ll always be waiting.

Now, while it is weighing heavily on your mind, is the time to take action and get help. Since many in rural areas don’t know where or how to find help for their substance abuse addiction, 12 Keys Rehab is here to assist with that. We can help you as you seek treatment and recovery from your addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

Among the many benefits of treatment programs available at 12 Keys Rehab is that it takes you away from the things that have prevented you from breaking the chains of your addiction so far. We remove you from the stress and other temptations you get at home. We also remove the people who are ready to offer you drugs and keep you down.

We give you a clean slate and then we give you the tools you need to write a different beginning for your story. We believe, firmly, that your new life begins in rehab. The story of your recovery represents a new beginning for you and gives you an opportunity to find new passions, restore your health and learn to love yourself — for who you are.

At 12 Keys, we don’t do one-size-fits-all. We understand you are a unique person who has special needs for treatment and recovery. We will work with you to help you through the detoxification process and then through treatment while providing holistic treatments, exercise therapy, healthy meals and opportunities for relaxation and reflections in a beautiful, tropical setting.

Contact 12 Keys Rehab today to get the help you need to overcome your addiction so you can start writing your next chapter of a healthy, sober life.

You can learn more about the fascinating breakdown of urban and rural drug abuse in the infographic below:


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