What Problems Arise With Teens in Small Town Life?

If you believe that only big-city teens use drugs, drink alcohol or engage in risky behaviors, think again. Although you may have a picturesque view of small-town life that features a Norman Rockwell-esque family picking apples together or sitting around the dinner table, small-town teens can get into just as much trouble -- if not more -- as their urban counterparts. Along with the quiet that rural life brings comes boredom, and consequently negative behaviors that teens may use to fill time.

Drug Use

According to a January 2000 report on substance abuse from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, by the end of the 20th century teens who lived in rural areas were more likely to use drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, inhalants and tranquilizers than those who lived in large urban cities 1. While this data might seem somewhat dated, the trend toward small-town teens using illegal substances isn't going away anytime soon, a February 2009 report on CBS News shares. Additionally, the Council of State Governments notes an upswing in youth use of drugs such as methamphetamine in rural areas 3. The boredom of small-town life, coupled with a lack of law enforcement funding and an abundance of open spaces -- especially in rural farming communities -- can make it easy for teens to produce drugs such as meth and use them without detection.

Underage Drinking

As with drug use, the nonavailability of fast-paced activities or places -- such as under-21 dance clubs -- can lead to problems for teens with underage drinking. According to the "National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings," a 2010 publication from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, binge alcohol drinking among 12- to 17-year-olds was highest, at 8.5 percent, in nonmetropolitan areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that binge drinking, unlike social or occasional drinking, includes excessive alcohol intake and may result in alcohol poisoning, neurological damage or long-term problems such as liver disease 4.

Sexual Behaviors and Teen Pregnancy

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy notes that during the year 2010 rural teen birth rates were one-third higher than those in other, more metropolitan areas. Similar to other problem behaviors -- such as substance abuse -- teen sex and pregnancy in small towns may result from boredom or a lack of interesting and engaging activities. Additionally, a lack of pregnancy prevention programs and reproductive services -- such as easy access to birth control -- may factor into small-town teen pregnancy problems.


Unlike big cities, which may have an array of educational options for teens both in and out of school -- such as advanced placement classes at a community college or enrichment opportunities at a local museum -- small towns may lack a wide variety of academic opportunities. The National Research Center on Rural Education Support notes that small-town teens perceive barriers -- such as family obligations or marrying early in young adulthood -- as a stumbling block when it comes to attaining an education. Additionally, some small towns may not have the funds to support quality education programs, leading to problems in school success and issues getting into college or postsecondary programs.