Religion as Drug Abuse Prevention


The world’s major religions turn a very skeptical eye towards alcohol and drug use, and there is no doubt that substance abusers can get shunned for their behaviors. A new study now quantifies the effect in American Indians. According to a paper presented at the American Sociological Association's 107th Annual Meeting, American Indian youth who are involved in their culture’s traditional spiritual practices are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Interestingly, these are young American Indians who are not living on reservations where cultural practices might be expected to have more of an influence. Rather, the participants lived in urban environments where they face the same temptations and marketing messages the broader American public is exposed to. This population also has a higher background rate of substance abuse than non-Indian peers.

Those who had adopted the spiritual beliefs and practices of their tribe were much more likely to be strongly set against drug and alcohol use, with the majority stating they “definitely would not” use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana. The study participants were in an age group (avg age 12.6 years old) where such attitudes are formed and when experimentation behavior is emerging.

The authors were able to distinguish between a generalized spiritual leaning (not protective) and a specific identification with traditional American Indian beliefs (highly protective). Many participants cited a fear of how elder family members or the community would react if they used drugs or alcohol.

"Rituals and ceremonies have helped American Indian communities adapt to change, integrate elements of different tribes, infuse aspects of Western organized religions, and make them their own," according to the paper.

Other faith populations also show a lower level of drug and alcohol use, but the assumption was that an immersion in the religious sub-culture is necessary. Showing that a belief system is protective, even when living in an environment of exposure to others using, shows the value of cultural identification linked to spiritual beliefs.


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