Is religiosity a protective factor against substance use in young adulthood? Only if you're straight!

J Adolesc Health. 2007 May;40(5):440-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.11.144. Epub 2007 Feb 15.


Purpose: Previous research has documented that substance use peaks during young adulthood and that religiosity provides a protective effect against binge drinking, marijuana use, and cigarette smoking. The majority of these studies do not examine sexual identity as it relates to these factors. Drawing on social influence and developmental theories, we tested the hypothesis that religiosity would provide a protective effect for heterosexual but not sexual minority young adults.

Method: Waves 1 and 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health provided data for the study. Three young adult sexual identity groups were formed: sexual minorities who did not report same-sex attraction at Wave 1 (NA), sexual minorities who did report same-sex attraction at Wave 1 (SSA), and heterosexuals (HET) (sample n = 764).

Results: Religiosity measured at baseline had no significant effect on past-year substance use, measured six years later in sexual minority young adults. For heterosexual young adults, each unit increase in religiosity reduced the odds of binge drinking by 9%, marijuana use by 20%, and cigarette smoking by 13%.

Conclusions: Religiosity was not protective against substance use in sexual minority young adults, cautioning against over-generalizing previous findings about the protective effects of religiosity. Future studies that 1) consider the social context for sexual identity development, 2) model both risk and protective factors, and 3) use multidimensional measures of religiosity (and spirituality) and sexual identity are needed to build the necessary knowledge base for effective health promotion efforts among sexual minority youth and young adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Psychosexual Development
  • Religion*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sexual Partners
  • Spirituality
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology