Methods: This study used data from the 2018 Monitoring the Future, 12th Graders study. A two-level random intercept model was used to analyze the sample (n=2416) with grouping by geographical region. Level 1 included independent variables of happiness, post-graduation plans, and hopelessness while controlling for gender, race, and age. Level 2 included the grouping variable of geographical region, with the American South as reference. Outcomes at both levels were hard drug use, alcohol use, and marijuana use.
Results: Youth’s reported happiness was negatively associated with hard drug use (b=-10, p=.004) and sense of hopelessness was positively associated with hard drug use (b=.02, p=.02). Youth’s post-graduation plans were associated with marijuana use. Youth who are more likely to attend a four-year college engaged in significantly less marijuana use when compared to other post-graduation plans (b= -.21, p<.001). Similarly, youth who are more likely to attend vocational or technical school engage in significantly less marijuana use when compared to other post-graduation plans (b= -.15, p=.007). Alcohol use was not significantly related to any of the main variables. By grouping participants in regional categories, with the American South as a reference group, the ρ = -0.12. This is the proportion of variance between the American South and other regions, meaning the true intraclass correlation coefficient is low and there is little variation by region.
Conclusions and implications: This study explored the relationship between happiness, hopelessness, and post-graduation plans with substance use habits of American high school seniors. Further, this study explored variation of these parameters by geographical region with particular interest in the American South. This study shows that hopelessness, happiness, and post-graduation plans are related to substance use of different kinds. Unfortunately, there was little variation by region. These findings have implications for the development of well-being programs to deter substance use and orient high schoolers to the future to emphasize what goals are at risk. Future studies should be more inclusive of other elements of well-being and seek to find community-level variation by other groups such as rural versus urban youth.