Understanding Rural Substance Abuse

Published On: February 15, 2020

rural substance abuse pic

Substance abuse is commonly referred to as a drug disorder. It is the use, abuse, or dependence of drugs, which can have an impact on the individual, family, and friends.

Substance abuse can also involve taking illegal drugs. Health professionals have labeled substance abuse as a disorder that can have a serious impact on the individual and requires direct professional assistance to overcome addiction.

Research has shown that addiction can impact an individual’s employment, family, social life, interpersonal relationships, health, and create legal conflict. Substance abuse can also include the use of prescription drugs and alcohol.

What Causes Rural Substance Abuse

Rural substance abuse occurs because of several factors. Here are the contributing factors of rural substance abuse:

1. The Individual

People that live in rural areas have been statistically known to have a low income (i.e, poverty) and far greater health-related issues. These factors typically have major contributing factors to rural substance abuse.

In fact, “rural areas make up about 97% of the nation’s land according to the Census.gov.”[1] measuring 19.3% of the population or 60 million people nationwide.

Living in poverty, limited access to healthcare and a shorter lifespan also contribute to rural substance abuse.

2. Professional Accountability

There has been a lack of treatment options in rural areas responsible for contributing to the increase in rural substance abuse. The lack of financial resources in rural areas is crippling for the individuals that really need treatment options or interested in overcoming their addiction. 

The professional shortage has also been extended to hospitals, clinics, and behavioral health services. The National Rural Health Organization has reported; “there are only 40 medical professionals for every 100,000 substance abuse user,”  [2] which limits the direct personal attention that’s needed to overcome their addiction. 

However, rural providers understand there is a need for prevention and treatment options and are making progress towards creating programs in rural areas that address prevention and substance abuse.

The Impact Of Substance Abuse On Rural Areas

Not having access to drugs in rural areas has caused many young adults and adults to abuse alcohol. In urban city areas, access to drugs is easier than in rural areas.

There are many other factors that contribute to the abuse of drugs in rural areas. For example, a lower level of education plays a role in many people turning to substance abuse.

There are not many highly learned professions available to residents of rural areas. A low wage job leaves many people in poverty and rural areas and they turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. with poverty or work-related stress.

Moreover, when students leave school because of a lack of funding, they often times, are left trying to create a rewarding lifestyle and miss out on education teaching them to stay away from substance abuse.

1. Financially Instability

Financial instability is another reason why individuals in rural areas turn to substance abuse. Unfortunately, it costs money to use most illegal drugs and alcohol, which leads to debt and contributes to greater financial instability.

There was a recent survey by RHIH that discusses how rural areas are having a harder time managing financial security leading to greater alcohol and substance abuse.[3]

2. Limited Interpersonal Interaction

The lack of human interaction in rural areas makes many people feel like they’re alone and results in depression and other mental issues. Living in the country is far more isolated than living in an urban city.

The lack of social activities or human interaction is responsible for many people in rural areas turning to alcohol or substance abuse to cope with the feelings of isolation.

What Can Be Done About Rural Substance Abuse?

Medical professionals are using valuable data in rural areas to create prevention and program options to eradicate the substance abuse of drugs and alcohol.

In fact, they understand the importance of starting out early to help with future addiction. Unfortunately, many young adults in rural areas are abusing alcohol.

More importantly, health officials and community leaders understand the need to address the misuse of illegal substances and alcohol in rural areas to avoid an epidemic, health-related ailments, and continued poverty.


[1] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-210.html

[2] https://www.ruralhealthweb.org/about-nrha/about-rural-health-care

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-03-20/6-charts-that-illustrate-the-divide-between-rural-and-urban-america


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