Methods: This study used wave 1 and wave 4 of the Adolescent and Adult Health survey, a nationally representative study to assess substance use, socioeconomic status, and the parent-adolescent relationship. Analyses were restricted to 785 rural youth grades 7-12 at wave 1 (1994-95). The outcome variables were years of education completed and income at wave 4 (2008). Substance use during adolescence was operationalized as the use of marijuana, chewing tobacco, and alcohol. The parent-adolescent relationship included support from both parents. We adjusted for individual demographic and health characteristics: gender (binary), race, parental income, general health, depressive symptoms, trouble in school, neighborhood drug use, and neighborhood school quality at wave 1. We ran two separate hierarchical multiple regressions to examine the effects of substance use during adolescence on educational attainment and income in young adulthood. We also examined whether the relationship differs by the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship.
Results: Chewing tobacco use and alcohol use were significant predictors of lower educational attainment in young adulthood (b= -.74, p=.003; b= -.32, p=.05), whereas marijuana use was a significant predictor of higher educational attainment (b=.53, p=.04). Being female, higher parental income, greater depressive symptoms, better health, and less reported trouble with teachers were also predictors of higher educational attainment. Substance use was not a significant predictor of income in young adulthood; however, better health was a significant predictor of higher income. The parent-adolescent relationship was not found to be a significant predictor of educational attainment and income and it did not serve as a significant moderator of the relationship between substance use and educational attainment or income.
Conclusions and Implications: This study adds to the limited literature documenting the effects of substance use during adolescence on educational attainment and income of young adults in rural areas. Since alcohol and chewing tobacco use of rural youth are indicators of lower educational attainment in young adulthood, social workers should identify adolescents at risk and provide preventive intervention programs. Marijuana use unexpectedly appears to have a positive impact on educational attainment. Future research should explore the relationship between substances, particularly marijuana, and educational attainment to examine the underlying reason for an association such as the ability of youth to access a coping mechanism.