Substance abuse is an issue that can affect anyone despite the boundaries of countries, ethnicity, gender, caste, religion, etc. If there is one thing that fuels substance abuse, it is the mind. A stressful, tensed, and depressed mind can be anywhere in the world, but is usually more prone to addiction. Geographic location and socioeconomic status also play a crucial role, as the duo directly or indirectly impacts the brain causing it to try risky behaviors such as substance abuse. And while most people think big cities are churning out mass addicts every year, rural areas are equally affected by this disease.

Yes. Rural areas may be viewed by many as places with least access to even the basic amenities, however, these places are more or less filled with addicts. The primary reason for these rural areas to have most cases of substance abuse is related to the lack of education at a very early stage. With no one to teach them what and how harmful drugs are for our body, they are unaware of the drastic consequences of substance abuse.

Rural vs Urban Substance Abuse

America is currently neck-deep into the War on Drugs. The areas where substance abuse, opioid, and alcohol addiction are on peak shows that the stats have reached to a point where it is now considered an epidemic. Multiple studies conducted by a pool of researchers to understand the trend of addiction concluded with results that are enough to baffle anyone.

In research conducted in 2012, a total of 212 participants, including 101 from rural areas and 111 from the urban side, were examined. The results concluded that rural drug users tend to have recent use of oxycodone, oxycontin, and methadone and that they have started drug abuse at an early age. On the other hand, urban drug users showed significantly higher statistics of recent cocaine and drug use.

Further studies revealed that alcohol addiction is far worse than illicit drug abuse in rural areas. The problem lies predominantly among rural youth, and those who are less educated tend to be more inclined towards substance abuse. A separate study focused on the addicts receiving treatment at the medical facilities. The data revealed that rural admittees are referred to the treatment centers through the criminal justice system for alcohol abuse or the consumption of non-heroin opioids. On the contrary, urban admittees are either self-admitted or are referred by an individual, for primary cocaine use. Urban admittees are all 18 or older during the beginning of their substance abuse. However, rural admittees reported being even younger.

Considering the results of similar studies, it seems that rural drug users tend to start substance abuse at a very stage in their life. This can be linked to having little to no access to quality education and a lack of opportunities in rural areas, encouraging the youth to dive deeper into addiction without knowing much about it. These factors, along with the absence of parental figures says it out loud why rural youth are heading towards addiction so early. In urban areas, people have access to good education and sources that frequently reveal the ill-effects of addiction to health. This inflicts a fear that keeps people away from substance abuse.

The studies also show that rural areas have a higher number of prescription opioid misuse. Whereas in urban areas, there is a significant number of heroin users. People who tried heroin were prescribed legal opioids as a prescription provided to them by a medical professional. However, since opioids are highly addictive in nature, many people end up misusing it without even a slightest of the doubt that they have been addicted. When their prescription runs out, urban addicts find it easier to dig up sources to maintain a constant supply of fentanyl or heroin. However, this is not the case with rural drug users. Since they are confined to a small part of the land, they do not have easy access to these drugs. Their best bet is still a family friend or a relative doctor who can legally prescribe opioids that they can misuse.

Treatment in Rural vs Urban

Treatment is yet another factor that separates the way rural and urban areas deal with substance abuse. While in urban areas, due to better infrastructure, availability of funds and resources, and dedicated centers to provide good treatment, drug users are directed to the medical facilities making it extremely easy to access healthcare programs. Meanwhile in rural areas, due to lack of funds and infrastructure, and already struggling medical facilities, it becomes very difficult to seek attention in case of any substance abuse inflicted health issue. Health professionals are unable to manage treatment programs in rural areas and any such program is hindered by a lack of resources, infrastructure, etc.


When dealing with substance abuse, a problem that has severed over the years, it is crucial to measure the impact considering various parameters. In rural areas, where the youth is falling more into addiction at an early age, there have to be certain programs to educate people. Knowledge can help them say no to drug abuse and live a healthy life. However, it is not as easy as it seems. People living in rural areas have been under these conditions for a long time now. They are already accustomed to growing up in a challenging environment that affects their mental well being. This mental distress coupled with a lack of education usually results in substance abuse. More programs are needed to tackle this issue. Spreading awareness is key.

For urban areas, people have to be self-aware of the fact that illicit drugs have the potential to hamper their health. Though there are various programs led by different communities and even the media to tackle substance abuse, they are often overlooked by people. Creative and quick measures are needed to get this message out so that fewer people fall victim to addiction.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.