Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Religious Affiliation and Alcohol Consumption in the United States

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Religious Affiliation and Alcohol Consumption in the United States

Article excerpt

Previous studies demonstrate that alcohol consumption has a distinctive geographical pattern in the United States and in other countries (Smith and Hanham 1982; Powell-Griner, Anderson, and Murphy 1997; SAMHSA 1999, 2005; Nelson and others 2004). In the United States, studies have shown that alcohol consumption is greater in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West and that consumption tends to be greater in metropolitan areas than in nonmetropolitan areas. Empirical studies of the geography of alcohol consumption have been reported in several countries, including the United States (Keller and Efron 1956; Rooney and Butt 1978; Hilton 1988; Williams and DeBakey 1992), Australia (Ward 1975), Great Britain (Kilich and Plant 1981; Duncan, Jones, and Moon 1993), and Finland (Karvonen 1995), as well as in some developing countries (Room 1983). Regional variations in alcohol use have been attributed to a variety of factors, including income, occupation, education, age, sex, race/ethnicity, and level of urbanization (Room 1983; Winter, Karvonen, and Rose 2002). Cultural factors that may explain regional variations in alcohol use tend to be confined to attitudes and norms related to behavior and political ideologies (Smith and Hanham 1982). Although decades of research have revealed that religion is one of the major determinants of alcohol use among individuals (Skolnick 1958; Preston 1969; Schlegel and Sanborn 1979; Mullen, Blaxter, and Dyer 1986; Maes and others 1999; Kendler and others 2003; Robertson 2004), we are unaware of any studies that have attempted to relate religion to the geographical patterns of alcohol consumption from a national, geographical perspective.

With approximately 75,000 alcohol-related deaths every year (Stahre, Brewer, and Naimi 2004), excessive alcohol use is a major public health issue and the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, after smoking and overweight (Mokdad and others 2004). It causes substantial social morbidity and economic costs as a result of domestic violence, child abuse, nonmonogamous sexual relationships, teen pregnancy, and alcoholism. Furthermore, excessive drinking, after having declined from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, is now increasing in the United States. The reason for this recent increase has not been determined. Binge drinking, defined as the consumption of five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion, has risen in recent years (Naimi and others 2003). Learning about the influences that underlie regional variations in alcohol use may lead us to a better understanding of the determinants of alcohol consumption, which in turn may help us develop more effective policies for preventing excessive drinking and its related morbidity and mortality. Because, according to a Gallup Poll conducted on 17-19 February 2003, 87 percent of Americans claim that religion plays a very important role in their daily lives (Huntington 2004, 377), it makes sense to investigate the extent to which religious affiliations may influence the regional variations of alcohol consumption across the United States.

Previous studies suggest that religion affects alcohol consumption (Thorner 1953; Nelsen and Rooney 1982; Forthum and others 1999), and the myriad relationships between religion and alcohol have been explored from historical, anthropological, and sociological perspectives (Heath 1976; Harford 1979; Sadava 1985; Francis 1992). In many ways, however, the relationship between alcohol and religion is quite complex, as is the relationship between religion and health (Chatters 2000; Koenig and Cohen 2002), or between health and alcohol (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2000). For example, Islam and Buddhism prohibit their followers from drinking, but Christianity and Judaism have largely approached alcohol with mixed messages, conceiving alcohol as both a blessing and a curse (Robertson 2004). Some religious groups teach that alcohol is a food and an important part of family life as well as a part of their religious rituals (Oropeza 2004). …

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