The locations of the families in FACHS were typical of the distribution of African Americans in the 2 states. The vast majority of black families in Iowa live in either metropolitan Des Moines or Waterloo; very few live in the small farming communities throughout the state. In contrast, a sizeable portion of the FACHS families in Georgia live in small rural towns, clustered more in the southern part of the state. The urban families in Georgia tend to live in communities outside Atlanta and small cities, such as Athens. The current results paint a mixed picture of these more urban environments in which most of the adolescents in both states (about 2/3 of the sample) lived. On the one hand, socioeconomic status levels were higher in these settings and there was generally less violence and less crime. On the other hand, there were significant differences in terms of availability—those in the urban settings had more access to all 3 substances (all P values < .002); and there were comparable differences in terms of actual use, by both the adolescents and their parents. In addition, the targets in the urban environments reported experiencing more stress in the first 2 waves. However, that tendency was gone by the time they were 15 (T3); and the tendency was not there for their parents. In short, it would appear that living in more urban environments resulted in the adolescents growing up a little faster. They were more likely to take advantage of the risk opportunities the urban area afforded them, and that included being more inclined to use substances to help them deal with the stress they were experiencing—much as young adults and adults do.
The pattern of results is generally consistent with the critical period hypothesis discussed in another FACHS paper.16
That study indicated that racial discrimination experienced early in life (by age 10.5 years) was particularly impactful for black adolescents, in terms of both negative affect and use later in life. In the current study, experiencing stress early in life (again, by age 10 or 11) predicted substance use 5 years later. That tendency was stronger for the urban adolescents, as evidenced by the fact that the effect of T1 negative affect on T2 use was significantly stronger in the urban environments. The same held true at T3 (age 15), even though by that time, the levels of stress were actually slightly (nonsignificantly) higher in the rural areas. This suggests that if this coping pattern (using substances to deal with stress) is learned at an early age, it will continue later in life, even if stress does not remain elevated. Conversely, those growing up in more rural areas where substances are less available may be less inclined to develop this type of coping strategy. We will know more about this pattern after collecting Wave 4 data, when the participants will be 18 or 19 on average. This appears to be an important issue that is worth pursuing.
Limitations and Future Research
Some limitations of the study need to be mentioned. First, as stated above, population distribution differed markedly in the 2 states. Even though the pattern of results maintained when controlling for state, further investigation of these relations in other states would increase generalizability of the results. Along the same lines, there are various definitions of rural beside the Census classification used in this study; future studies should look at a greater range of populations. Second, this is a very brief discussion of a complex behavioral pattern; necessarily, some issues and questions remain unaddressed or unanswered. Besides the differences between states, such as less parental use and less availability in Georgia (plus the fact that negative affect started off much lower in Georgia, but then increased significantly more by T3), there is also an interesting pattern such that early parental use was associated with significant increases in adolescent negative affect at T3, 5 years later (controlling for negative affect measured at the 2 previous waves). We are not sure why that is the case, but again, it seems worthy of additional attention. Third, the models were set up as recursive; however, it is likely that some of the paths (negative affect to use being a prime example) are actually reciprocal. Finally, we are not yet clear on why, exactly, the urban adolescents experienced more negative affect early on. In this regard, additional analyses should look at regional and population differences in the roles of discrimination and other stressors that African-American adolescents face in influencing substance use and abuse.