Med-Low Med-High Religious Commitment


smokers. Between 1989 and 1999, the proportion of cigarette users and marijuana users rose somewhat; for year-to-year changes in substance use, see Johnston et al. (2000). For the present purposes, the most important finding in Figure 1 is that religion was linked to drug use at all three times, although the relationships appear a bit more dramatic during periods of heavier use.

Because high religious commitment is associated with low likelihood of drug use, it is reasonable to ask whether any of the decline in illicit drug use during the 1980s could be attributed to a heightened religious commitment among young people during that period. The answer is clearly negative, as illustrated in Figure 2. The same annual surveys that showed declines in drug use also indicated that religious commitment, rather than rising during the 1980s, was actually declining among high school seniors. It thus appears that other factors ac counted for the declines in illicit drug use, factors such as the increasing levels of risk and the heightened disapproval associated with such behaviors (Bachman et al., 1988, 1990; Johnston, 1985; Johnston et al., 2000). Moreover, Figure 2 shows that religious commitment—especially ratings of importance—actually rose slightly during the 1990s, so it does not appear that the rise in use of some drugs during the 1990s is attributable to any further drop in religiosity.

Religion as a Protective Factor. The most plausible interpretation of the relationship between religion and drug use during recent years, in our view, is that religion (or the lack thereof) was not primarily responsible for either the increases or the subsequent decreases in illicit drug use. Rather, it appears that those with the strongest religious commitment were least susceptible to the various epidemics in drug use. Figure 3 (adapted from Bach-

Trends in American Youth's Religiosity, 1976-1999

S 25

76 77 78 79 8o 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 9o 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99

Survey Year

Figure 2

Trends in American youth's religiosity: 1976—1999.

man et al., 1990) provides one example in support of that interpretation. The figure illustrates trends in cocaine use from 1976 through 1988, distinguishing among the four different degrees of religious commitment. Cocaine use roughly doubled between 1976 and 1979 among high school seniors and began to decline sharply after 1986. But the most important pattern in the figure, for the present purposes, is that these historical trends in cocaine use were much more pronounced among those with little or no religious commitment. Put another way, it seems that strong religious commitment operated as a kind of protective factor, sheltering many youths from the waves of drug use sweeping the nation.

Denominational Differences. There are important differences among religious groups in the emphasis placed on drug use (Lorch & Hughes, 1988). In particular, the more fundamentalist Protestant denominations, as well as Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and African American Muslims, rule out the use of alcohol and tobacco and disdain illicit drug use. Research examining differences in drug use among young people finds that those who belong to fundamentalist denominations are more likely to abstain from drug use than are youth who belong to more liberal denominations (Lorch & Hughes, 1985). Analyses of the data on high school seniors (Wallace & Forman, 1998) corroborate the findings of earlier research; the number of young people strongly committed to fundamentalist denominations (e.g., Baptists) who use drugs is much lower than average and lower than the percentages for

Truancy Index:

25 20 15

Truancy Index:

25 20 15

Year of Survey

Figure 3

Trends in annual cocaine use shown separately for five levels of truancy, high school seniors: 1976—1988.

those strongly committed to other religious traditions.

Changes During Young Adulthood. Panel surveys that followed high school seniors up to fourteen years after graduation revealed that substance use often increases in response to new freedoms such as leaving high school and moving out of parents' homes, whereas use often decreases in response to new responsibilities such as marriage, pregnancy, and parenthood (Bachman et al., 1997). Additional analyses of these data reveal that religion continues to be strongly related to various forms of drug use during the late teens, twenties, and early thirties. These analyses reveal that religious attendance and importance change rather little for most individuals, but when changes in religiosity occur, there tend to be corresponding changes in substance use. Specifically, increases in religious commitment are correlated with declines in the use of alcohol and illicit drugs. Smoking behavior, on the other hand, is linked with religiosity during high school and thus also during young adulthood. However, after high school, smoking behavior is relatively little affected by changes in religiosity—presumably because by the time of young adulthood, most individuals who continue to smoke have become dependent on nicotine and find it very difficult to quit.

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