Volunteering, helping others decreases substance use in rural teens, study finds

Nov 10, 2011

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 report the highest rates of substance use and dependence, according to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health. A new study from the University of Missouri found that rural adolescents who engage in prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering and helping others, are less likely to use substances as young adults.

Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, examined data from surveys given to a group of rural youths from junior high school to young adulthood. Carlo found that prosocial behaviors serve as protective factors against adolescents engaging in risky behaviors. Thus, teens who engage in more prosocial behaviors are less likely to get drunk or use marijuana as .

"Prosocial behaviors are good for society and communities, but also they are a marker of moral development," Carlo said. "Parents want their kids to be kind, selfless, considerate and respectful. We now have evidence that these prosocial behaviors make adolescents less likely to break moral codes and engage in illegal activities like getting drink and smoking marijuana."

The study focused on rural youths because previous research indicates they may be more apt to use illicit substances earlier, putting them at risk for developing addiction problems as adults. Rural communities tend to be more spread out, making it difficult for adolescents to get transportation to events and activities. In addition, rural communities often have less access to recreation centers, spaces for meetings, volunteers to run programs and funding for organized activities.

"There is a tendency for youths to take part in risky behaviors if they are not engaged in positive, structured activities," Carlo said. "Many have suffered from the economic downturn and are unable to offer opportunities for youth activities. Financial stress can also affect the psychological health of parents making them less cognizant of how children spend their time."

Carlo says the research has important implications for prevention and intervention programs aimed at teens.

"Research shows that prevention programs are more effective and economical," Carlo said. "If we can develop programs that foster prosocial behaviors, we know the programs will decrease the likelihood that adolescents will use substances in adulthood.

Explore further: Congressional rift over environment influences public

More information: The study, "The Longitudinal Relationships Between Rural Adolescents' Prosocial Behaviors and Young Adult Substance Use," was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Positive teens become healthier adults

Jul 19, 2011

Teenagers are known for their angst-ridden ways, but those who remain happy and positive during the tumultuous teenage years report better general health when they are adults, according to a new Northwestern University study.

Recommended for you

Congressional rift over environment influences public

2 hours ago

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Decoding ethnic labels

Jul 30, 2014

If you are of Latin American descent, do you call yourself Chicano? Latino? Hispanic?

Local education politics 'far from dead'

Jul 29, 2014

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

Jul 29, 2014

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

Jul 29, 2014

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

Jul 29, 2014

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 0