College Students' Alcohol and Substance Use: Religiosity as a Protective Factor.

Author:Abbott, Jessica

In the United States, drinking and illicit substance use among college students is quite prevalent on college campuses (Giordano, Prosek, Daly, Holm, Ramsey, Abernathy, & Sender, 2013; Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, Schulenberg, & Miech, 2014; Schulenberg, Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, Miech, & Patrick, 2019; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2014). Widespread drug and alcohol abuse may pose serious risks regarding students' health and academic behaviors, especially negative intrapersonal effects (Palmer et al., 2012), negative academic consequences., such as low academic standing and increased likelihood of dropping out, (Arria, Caldeira, Bugbee, Vincent, & O'Grady, 2015; Arria, Garnier-Dyksta, Caldeira, Vincent, Palmer et al., 2012; Brechting & Carlson, 2015), polysubstance use (Arria et al., 2013; O'Grady, Arria, Fitzelle, & Wish, 2008; Mohler-Kuo, Lee, & Wechsler, 2003), and dependency (Mohler-Kuo et al., 2003; Palmer et al., 2012; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2019).

Despite these negative effects, college students' alcohol and substance use continues to increase nationwide (Johnston et al., 2014; SAMHSA, 2014). Recent studies, however, have shown religiosity to be a protective factor for both licit and illicit substance use (Giordano et al., 2015; Gmel, Mohler-Kuo, Dermota, Gaume, Bertholet, Daeppen, & Studer, 2013; Moscati & Mezuk, 2014; Palamar, Kiang, & Halkitis, 2014). As a result of this relationship, it is important to further understand the connection between college students' alcohol and substance use and religiosity. In this paper, we explore the effects of religiosity on substance use using cross-sectional data with a sample of undergraduate students.


Collegiate Alcohol and Substance Use

Recent research has shown approximately 60% of college students are current consumers of alcohol, 36% use marijuana, and 19% use other illicit substances other than marijuana (Johnston et al., 2014; Palmer et al., 2012; SAMHSA, 2014). Further, one study found that 40% of college students reported binge drinking in the two weeks prior to being surveyed (Brechting & Carlson, 2015). Research shows that alcohol and marijuana are the most widely used and abused substances on college campuses; however, the nonmedical use of prescription drugs, especially prescription stimulants, is becoming more popular among college students (Arria, Caldeira, O'Grady, Vincent, Fitzelle, Johnston, & Wish, 2008; Arria et al., 2013; Johnston et al., 2014; Palmer et al., 2012). Recent studies have noted that a majority of students are exposed to alcohol and marijuana in adolescence, but for other illicit substances, exposure and initiation frequently occur in college, typically around their sophomore year (Arria et al., 2008). Seemingly, after students transition from high schools into universities, young adults are exposed to a wide variety of substances.

Literature regarding risk factors associated with alcohol and substance use has found a number of risk factors associated with substance use. For example, Arria and colleagues (2008) found that mere exposure to alcohol and other illicit substances is a significant risk factor regarding students' alcohol and substance use, and that exposure to substances can increase one's likelihood of initiating substance use while delaying cessation. Other risk factors in determining collegiate alcohol and substance use includes: demographic factors (such as age, gender, sexuality, and race), family characteristics, peer influences, involvement in a fraternity/sorority, academic factors (such as on-campus/off-campus living arrangements), adolescent and lifetime substance use, and "partying' habits (Bavarian, Flay, Ketcham, & Smit, 2013; Brechting & Carolson, 2015; Evans-Polce, Lanza, & Maggs, 2016; Mohler-Kuo et al., 2003; Nasim, Utsey, Corona, & Belgrave, 2006; O'Grady et al., 2008). Unfortunately, although much research has been directed toward understanding risk factors regarding collegiate alcohol and substance use, research regarding protective factors is lacking (Gmel, Mohler-Kuo, Dermota, Gaume, Betholet, Daeppen, & Studer, 2013; Palamar, Kiang, & Halkitis, 2014). One potential protective factor, discussed in the paragraphs below, is religiosity.

Collegiate Religiosity

During college, students engage in self-exploration and strive to achieve a more defined sense of self, which often results in more individualized beliefs and values (Giordano et al., 2015; Stoppa & Lefkowitz, 2010). At this point, many young adults seek to separate themselves from their parents' beliefs (Moscati & Mezuk, 2014) and will question, examine, and construct their own personal belief systems and adopt or dismiss religion or faith (Giordano et al., 2015). Furthermore, religiosity provides both psychological and social support, which is critical when students and young adults attempt to define their sense of self (Nasim et al., 2006).

Though most studies typically attempt to understand adolescent development and religiosity, many neglect the collegiate experience as a unique source of religious andpersonal development (Nasim et al., 2006). Although the bulk of physical development occurs in adolescence, the college experience is a time for emerging adults to grow and better understand their sense of self away from their families. Students explore themselves and develop their own morals, values, and beliefs, which may have a reciprocal relationship with religion. Given the possible interdependent relationship between religion, morals, and values, it is necessary to understand the role religion plays throughout a student's college career.

Although no national study has been completed to specifically describe college students' religiosity, the Pew Research Center (2015) has shown that approximately 36% of young adults (ages 18-24) claim to be unaffiliated. Other research estimates that students' religious affiliations range from 25% to 56%, depending upon geographical region (Burke, Olphen, Elaison, Howell & Gonzalez, 2014; Pew Research Center, 2015). It has also been noted that student religious participation declines over the course of their college career, especially in the first three semesters (Stoppa & Lefkowitz, 2010). Nonetheless, the importance of religion among college students remains relatively stable (Stoppa & Lefkowitz, 2010). Therefore, although students may not participate in organized religious services or activities during their college career, this does not negate the importance of religion in their lives.

Religiosity and Collegiate Alcohol and Substance Use

Recently, the role of religion in alcohol and substance abuse among college students has gained increasing attention (Brechting & Carlson, 2015; Johnson, Sheets, & Kristeller, 2008). Most studies have strongly focused on alcohol and marijuana, as they are the most widely used substances among the college population, but have neglected to explore more harmful substances, such as opiates, hallucinogens, heroin, and crack/cocaine (Chitwood et al., 2008). Studies have produced mixed findings with regard to the effects of religiosity on substance use (Chitwood et al., 2008; Vakalahi, 2002). This might be due to the manner in which religiosity is conceptualized. When religiosity is conceptualized to include both religious involvement (externalized behaviors) and religious importance (internalized beliefs), more consistent results are found (Piko & Fitzpatrick, 2004; Resnick, Ireland, & Borowsky, 2004; Van Den Bree, Whitmer, & Pickworth, 2004).

Recent studies found that religious students reported less drinking and less marijuana use (Ameri, Mirzakhani, Nabipour, Khanjani, & Sullman, 2017; Bodford & Hussong, 2013; Burke et al., 2014; Ford & Hill, 2012; Gomes, de Andrade, Izbicki, Almeida, & de Oliveira, 2013; Lucchetti & Lucchetti, 2014; Stauner, Exline, Kusina, & Pargament, 2019). Looking specifically at alcohol use, numerous studies have found a significant inverse relationship between religiousness and alcohol use (Brechting & Carlson, 2015; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Nonnemaker, McNeely, & Blum, 2003). Turning to how different dimensions of religiosity affect alcohol use, Nonnemaker and colleagues (2003) found that private religiousness (frequency of prayer and importance of religion) was influential on initiating and experimenting with alcohol use, whereas public religiousness (service attendance and participation in youth group activities) was more significantly related to regular and problematic alcohol use (Nonnemaker et al.) Contrarily, Giordano and colleagues (2015) found that religious students only slightly differed from non-religious students in their substance use.

Notwithstanding the findings discussed above, religiosity most often is found to be a protective factor against alcohol and substance use, especially harder illicit substances (Allen & Lo, 2010; Brechting & Carlson, 2015; Bodford & Hussong, 2013; Booth, Curran, & Han, 2004; Chawla, Neighbors, Lewis, Lee, & Larimer, 2007; Chitwood et al., 2008; Giordano et al., 2015; Gmel et al., 2013; Moscati & Mezuk, 2014; Nasim et al., 2006; Nonnemaker, McNeely, & Blum, 2003; Palamar et al., 2014; Wallace, Brown, Backman & Laveist, 2003). Protective factors, "individual and social characteristics and resources that promote positive development despite the presence of risk," (Crosnoe, Glasgow-Erickson, & Dornbusch, 2002; p. 518) moderate the impact of risk on a particular behavior (Desmond. Soper, & Kraus, 2011). According to Crosnoe and colleagues (2002), "when protection is high, the strength of the relation between a risk factor and the negative outcome decreases" (p. 518).

Religious importance and religious...

To continue reading