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The Relationship Between Religiosity And Substance Use In Adolescents

18 April 2003


Much of the research on risk and protective factors of substance use in

adolescents has either assumed a priori that religiosity is a protective factor or has

included it as a part of an aggregate of proposed protective factors (Donovan Jessor &

Costa, 1991; Felix-Ortiz &Newcomb, 1992; Jessor & Jessor, 1977). However, very few

studies have examined religiosity as a discrete factor, and when this has been done

conflicting findings have often been cited (Hirschi & Stark, 1969; Stark, Kent & Doyle,


In the present study of 776 adolescents eM = 11.50 years, SD = 1.74 years) in

Portland, Oregon, a large city in the Pacific Northwest, both adolescent participants and

one of their guardians provided infonnation about the adolescents' alcohol, tobacco and

marijuana use, importance of school, self-worth, perceived social acceptance, and

intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. A stratified quasi-random sampling approach was used

to ensure that the sample was sufficiently random while at the same time ensuring

adequate participation by members of minority groups (30.8% African American; 61.3%

White, not of Hispanic Origin; 1.5% American IndianlNative American; 2.4%

Spanish!Hispanic/Latino; 1.3% AsianlPacific Islander).

It was hypothesized that there would be an inverse relationship between

religiosity and substance use, and a positive correlation between religiosity and lmown

protective factors. It was further hypothesized that, as cited by Park, Bauer and Oescher

(2001), in European Americans both extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity would negatively

correlate with substance use, while in African Americans only intrinsic religiosity would

significantly correlate with substance use. Point-biserial analyses contradicted all of the

above hypotheses, revealing no significant relationship between any measure of

religiosity and substance use. Inverse relationships were found between self-worth and

importance and school and substance use. When the data was analyzed by ethnicity it was

found that in European Americans there were inverse relationships between importance

of school and self-worth and substance use, and a negative relationship between overall

religiousness and extrinsic religiosity and self-worth. In African American adolescents

and inverse relationship was found between self-worth and all categories of substance

use, importance of school and marijuana use, and a positive relationship was found

between intrinsic religiosity and self-worth.

Implications of the fmdings for regional variance in problem behavior theory and

the conventionality and unconventionality construct are discussed. The

reconceptualization of religiosity as a social rather than as an individual construct, and

the thus the importance of local norms on the effects of religiosity, is discussed. Finally,

constructs of worth- and acceptance-based theologies are discussed as important factors

in future research on religiosity.


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