Religiosity and Substance Abuse: Need for Systematic Research

By Sharma, Manoj | Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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Religiosity and Substance Abuse: Need for Systematic Research


Sharma, Manoj, Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education


Religion plays a significant role in human life, yet its potential to influence health and health-related conditions is not well studied. Becker (2001) contends that there are several words like "spirituality," "faith," and "divinity" that have been used in the literature along with religion and while these terms appear similar, they cannot be used interchangeably. She says that spirituality refers to the soul or mind and is not tangible and a highly subjective experience. Divinity is about presence of a divine power. Faith can exist without belief of divine power and is unconditional confidence in something. Religion is a system of beliefs unified by acceptance of a divine or superhuman power. Religiosity is usually familial and is shaped by religious beliefs of parents, peer group, and community. Religion is multidimensional. However, religion has been insufficiently operationalized in the published literature. The most common construct of religion that has been reified has been affiliation (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991). Other dimensions such as importance, extent of devotion and beliefs also need to be considered. First of all, for research of religiosity on alcohol and substance abuse there is a need for more multidimensional, valid, and reliable instruments.

Secondly, definitive empirical studies have not been undertaken that delineate the influence of religion on substance abuse (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Larson & Larson, 1994). In general, studies that have used religious affiliation have found an inverse relationship between religiosity and attitudes toward drinking, knowledge about alcohol, amount of alcohol consumed, and physical complications of alcohol abuse (Dunn, 2005; Zucker, Austin, Fair, & Branchey, 1987). Most of the studies are cross-sectional in nature and what are needed are longitudinal studies. Further studies are needed that elaborate the mechanism by which religiosity operates to influence substance abuse: whether it is a direct causative role, or a buffer-like role, or some other form of effect modification.

One study that has utilized a broader definition of religiosity is by Kendler and colleagues (1997) who studied the relationship between religiosity and substance abuse in a sample of 1,902 twins. They utilized several scales including a 10-item scale of different religious beliefs and behaviors, and a scale of institutional conservatism of current religious affiliation. They found that personal devotion and personal and institutional conservatism were significantly and inversely associated with current levels of drinking and smoking as well as lifetime risk for alcoholism and nicotine dependence.

Another study by Cronin (1995) examined the relationship among religious affiliation, importance of religious values, and alcohol and drug use among college students (n = 216). The study found that religious affiliation played the strongest role in predicting drug use. In addition, the study found that alcohol consumption did not differ among various groups defined by religious affiliation.

Another study by Brizer (1993) examined the role of religiosity on alcohol and drug abuse in an inpatient psychiatric population (n = 168). The author developed a three-page religious involvement questionnaire (RIQ), which is an extension of the religious interest questionnaire (Kroll & Sheehan, 1989) and describes intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. The RIQ also includes six items that rate the patients' belief upon their behavior (for example, I avoid certain food/music/drink because of my religion) and six items from the social cohesiveness scale that rates the strength of subjects' affiliation with co-members of their faith.

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