Family Rituals, Religious Involvement, and Drug Attitudes among Recovering Substance Abusers

By Fife, John E.; McCreary, Micah et al. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Family Rituals, Religious Involvement, and Drug Attitudes among Recovering Substance Abusers


Fife, John E., McCreary, Micah, Brewer, Tashia, Adegoke, Adekunle A., North American Journal of Psychology


A ritual can be defined as a repetitive patterned interaction that is practiced in a variety of settings (Wolin & Bennett, 1984). These patterned interactions can range from everyday routine activities to more sophisticated observances. Rituals can tap deeply into a family's shared sense of identity and affect the behavior of all family members. Wolin and Bennett (1984) state that rituals can stabilize an individual's identity in the family by clarifying expected roles, delineating boundaries within and without the family, and defining rules. Rituals also inform us about family resilience and pathology. Dysfunctional families often report severe ritual disruption or disorganization of their ritual activities, suggesting that the stability and consistency of key rituals may provide important information about a family's social and emotional coherence (Churchill & Stoneman, 2004; Fiese, 1993). Spagnola and Fiese (2007) highlighted recent evidence suggesting that variations in family ritual are connected with variations in academic and social skills development. Despite these connections between family rituals and childhood development, very little research has focused on the influence of family rituals on reducing risky behavior.

Family Rituals and risky behavior

Wolin, Bennett and Jacobs (1988) found that offspring from families with distinctive dinner times evidenced less transmission of alcoholism than the others. Fulkerson et al., (2006) found a consistent inverse relationship between the frequency of family dinners and all high-risk behaviors measured (i.e., substance use, sexual activity, depression/suicide, antisocial behaviors, violence, school problems, binge eating/purging, and excessive weight loss. These findings suggest that the ritual of frequent family dinners may be a protective factor that influences high-risk behaviors among youth.

Moriarty and Wagner (2004) found that spirituality was one of six rituals used by single-parent families as a way to facilitate family cohesion and instill family values. There is very little literature on the influence of rituals in African American families, and no research that investigates both religious and non-religious rituals' influence on those recovering from substance abuse.

Family rituals offer the opportunity to fully participate in family health, and to many African-Americans religious rituals play an important role in community life. The African worldview emphasizes and encourages collective survival, interdependence and cooperation, and African spiritual traditions have historically held a central place in African American communalism, particularly during the time of slavery (Mbiti, 1990). In African-American culture, religious attendance and celebration is an important type of ritual that is consistent with the African world-view of a supernatural being that is responsible for the creation of everything. Church attendance is a type of ritual that may provide emotional support as well as psychological stability for African-American family and community members. For families who attend weekly services together, it is a reminder that there is a supreme being that is in control of all things, and that support is available in the midst of the trials of life. Consequently, religion had been identified as a key coping mechanism for many African Americans and is expected to influence both substance use and recovery.

Since it is known that religion plays an integral role in the life of many African-Americans, and research has indicated that there is an association between religiosity and substance abuse (Adlaf & Smart, 1985; Amey et al., 1996), it is assumed that religious activity and involvement should positively influence African-Americans who are in recovery. Religion is expected to be a protective factor against drug use and or abuse. Studies on religion/spirituality and substance use/abuse and treatment success for African Americans have reported that African American women who were active in church had more disapproving attitudes towards alcohol and drug use, and that spirituality is an important factor in maintaining sobriety for African-American alcoholics (Gary & Gary 1985; Knox, 1985). …

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