Why do kids in rural areas drink more?

Rural teens, why do you drink so much? It’s not because there’s nothing else to do in flyover country. It’s because they think their parents and their community don’t care about them, a new study says.

Researchers at Calvin College in Michigan looked 1,425 sixth- to eighth-graders in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

Live Science says the percentage of middle-schoolers who had imbibed in the past month ranged from 21 percent in some towns to 69 percent in others. It said that suggests high-drinking rates involve more than just boredom.


The findings also illustrated the complexity of the relationship between economic hardship and drinking, researchers said. The poorer the community, the more likely teens were to drink. But it was the relatively affluent kids in those towns who drank the most, perhaps because they’re more able to afford the booze.

The kids’ responses suggested that it’s not boredom that drives them to the bottle. Rather, teenagers seem to have some of the same motivations for drinking as adults. The more stressed the teen, the more likely he or she was to drink.

Update 4:42 p.m. — Based on the number of people who have told me their darkest small-town-upbringing secrets in the last hour, it would appear the study is in error and that boredom really is the reason. Did you grow up in a small town? C’mon. Spill.

  • http://norwegianity.wordpress.com Mark Gisleson

    Seriously Bob, have you ever spent time in a small town? Not a day trip but a week or two?

    I’m not talking about resort areas. I’m talking small town, middle of nowhere, rural America. It’s better now because of the internet, but when I was growing up in rural Iowa we didn’t get public TV until the year after I left. Even today the newspapers only carry two-day old sports scores (early edition being newspaperese for “no sports worth reading”).

    I know from your earlier post that you don’t care for Garrison Keillor’s politics, but his Lake Wobegon books while humorous, are not satire. They cut too close to the bone for that.

    Why do you think meth is much more of a rural problem than urban? Have you ever heard of anyone running a still in a metro area? Ingesting veterinary drugs is pretty much unique to rural areas, as is large animal bestiality.

    Rural areas are boring. Just ask anyone who’s lived over sixty miles from a real metro area. Rural areas put on a good front because as soon as most kids turn 18, they’re out of there. Those who stay are the few that like the staid pace of life, but in most every rural area the majority of graduates relocate after graduation.

  • Bonnie

    Actually my home town had a fantastic place called of all things “The Youth Center”! Ask anyone from Fairmont over the age of 50, or maybe even 40, I can’t remember when they tore it down. The place actually worked. Venue for local garage bands to play every friday night, or they might even bring a big name down from Mankato…parents volunteered to stamp hands and take fifty cents at the door, jocks, hoods, geeks, cheerleaders, didn’t matter, everyone went there. And there were 800 – 1,000 kids in the high school, in the heydays, so this is a pretty big deal. If you smelled funny you didn’t get in. And it was right next door to the cop shop.

    There were also lots of keggers out on farms and occasionally in town…and there were drugs, mostly from vietnam vets back in town, but it was mostly pot.

    But the “Youth Center” worked in its time and I was very fortunate to be a tween and teen during that time.

  • Kassie

    I think it may be easier for high school students in small towns to get alcohol too. When I was in high school I didn’t know anyone over 21 and had some friends who did, but not a lot. But in small towns, where everyone knows everyone, it is easier to know a 21+ person to buy you booze. You know, the guy who never left town and works at the gas station and still attends the football games? Yeah, him.

  • Al

    And then there’s the other reason: They watch their parents drink. As I recall many of the kids who drank the most when I was in school had party parents as well. My small group of friends didn’t drink at all. None of us had parents who drank, with the exception of the one guy whose mom was a serious alcoholic (enough to take the fun out of it). We lived about 30 miles from the city but didn’t go there all the time. Were we bored? Maybe a little, but we watched a lot of movies, went bowling, and joined the Boy Scouts which got us out camping with our dads (who were all leaders) every couple of months. A little parental influence goes a long way.

  • Bonnie

    Now that I actually read the link and have reflected upon my previous post…I have to agree with their premise…As tweens, teens, we did feel valued by the community, maybe because there were so dang many of us, and they were just scared to death. But in the rural community I grew up in, we did feel valued by the larger community, and I think that did make a big difference, there was still drinking of course, but there was an attitude among us to party within limitations, not screw things up. I also recall that the local police and the state police were very involved…they knew all the kids and knew when it was time to lock them up and when it was time to just make sure they got home safely with a warning…But this was over 30 years ago!!!! We can’t kid ourselves, but maybe we can learn from the past.

  • Lindsey

    I grew up in a small town, and I generally agree to the results of the study, though I would put a different twist on it. In small towns, there aren’t high expectations to go to college. It’s almost as if parents are afraid of their kids going to college because it’s a sign their kid will move away to the city. There’s this nostalgia about high school sports as being “the best years of your life.” I think parental expectations are really low, especially for boys. This kind of maps onto the larger trends we see right now of boys not finishing high school or going to college, while girls now capture the majority of college and graduate degrees. So given this context of low expectations, why not make partying the focus of high school?

    I was one of the kids who did go to college, and yes, I do live in the Cities now…

  • Al

    Now that I look at it again, it seems like my experience was exactly what the study found. In my group of friends just about all of the parents were involved in our lives and we had other adults in the community to connect to.

  • Gerald Myking

    Yes, the Youth Center in Fairmont was something special. There were a lot of things to do back in those days but drinking was still big. I lost a number of my class mates to drunk driving accidents including my father. I don’t know that the reasons for teens drinking is any different than adults with the small exception of wanting to grow up faster by immitating adults. The one thing I see the most in teens and adults is inhibitations. Boredom is still a factor and is sometimes connected to economics. So much of our entertainment is very expensive, add the cost of transportation to rural kids and drinking becomes economical.

  • Krista

    I grew up in a small town where everybody knew everybody. I always felt like the outcast because I didn’t drink. All (35) of my classmates drank-at the local dance hall, at home, at parties- because parents, teachers, and community members looked the other way. It was socially acceptable. I was lucky enough to be really close to my parents and we did things together every weekend (museums, shopping, movies), but many of my classmates’ parents were farmers who couldn’t get away or small-town folks who didn’t drive in “The Cities.”

    Even my wonderful parents looked the other way. When my brother’s friends brought him home passed out drunk, they got angry and grounded him, but his binge drinking continued. If somebody brought MY 16 year old home in that condition, I would be SEEKING HELP for her.

    Drinking in small towns in both a combination of boredom and lack of parental involvement. Also, parents have commit to doing something about teenage drinking by not simply looking the other direction.

  • Bob Collins

    // I know from your earlier post that you don’t care for Garrison Keillor’s politics,

    Minor point. I never commented on whether I agree or disagree with GK’s politics.

  • Duke Powell

    I grew up in small town southern Indiana and a study by a college in Michigan isn’t required to explain why we drank as teens.

    We did it because it was fun.

    While I’ll admit that the “fun experiences” have morphed into “really stupid things to do” over the years, it cannot be denied that it was fun at the time.

    But the world is different now. At the time drinking and driving was not against the law, unless you were a minor or an adult that actually hurt someone while driving. No, the consequences weren’t so much the legal aspect – it was the fact that public intoxication was simply socially unacceptable, especially for minors. The only things worse was stealing or getting your girlfriend pregnant.

    In our culture we used to have a concept known as “shame” and the whole town, hell, the whole county just loved to participate in the public shaming of the perp and the perp’s family. The schools, your church, your extended family, people you didn’t even know, and even your friends all participated.

    No, we weren’t bored or stressed. I wouldn’t trade my small-town experiences for anything. And, truth be known, we didn’t do a whole lot of drinking either. But when we did, we knew the dangers of being caught.

    And not getting caught was more fun than the drinking part. I mean, come on, some of the stuff we drank tasted like the insides of my boots.

    I still visit my hometown 2-3 times a year after moving away 35 years ago. Still sit down with my oldest friends, drink beer, tell lies about each other– and giggle like little girls.

  • http://norwegianity.wordpress.com Mark Gisleson

    Thanks to Duke I now recall that we always got to Sunday school class early when I was a junior and senior because that’s where you found out about who’d been busted for DUI the night before.

    It was also where you heard about who got killed in a car wreck the night before. My graduating class of 164 lost 4 members to drunk driving thanks to muscle cars, under-aged drinking and narrow gravel roads with deep ditches.

    I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I’m not aware of a single classmate who died in a car crash since.