Losing faith and finding religion: religiosity over the life course and substance use and abuse

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Mar 1;136:127-34. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.12.018. Epub 2014 Jan 6.


Background: Religion has only come into the light of scientific inquiry as a factor influencing health and behavior in the last few decades. While religiosity is a protective factor for contemporaneous substance misuse, the relationship between longitudinal changes in religiosity and substance use outcomes is understudied.

Methods: Using data from the National Comorbidity Study - Replication (N=6203), we examined how changes in religiosity from childhood to adulthood are related to use and abuse/dependence of licit (alcohol and tobacco) and illicit drugs. Multivariable logistic regression was used to account for potential confounders including demographic characteristics, familial disruption during childhood, and comorbid major depression.

Results: Religiosity was inversely associated with use and misuse of both licit and illicit substances; however this relationship varied by level of childhood religiosity. Relative to stable levels of religiosity from childhood to adulthood, a 2-unit decrease in religiosity from childhood was associated with increased likelihood of illicit drug use in the past year (odds ratio (OR): 2.43, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.39-4.25). However, a 2-unit increase in religiosity was also associated with past-year illicit drug use (OR: 1.85, 95% CI: 1.09-3.13). Comparable associations were found with a range of recent and lifetime measures of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.

Conclusions: Substantial gains or losses in religiosity from childhood to adulthood are associated with substance use and misuse. Findings support the use of a life course approach to understanding the relationship between religiosity and substance use outcomes.

Keywords: Alcohol; Cannabis; Dependence; Drugs; Religiosity; Tobacco.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Educational Status
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Religion*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology