The Impact of religiosity/spirituality on slowing the progression of substance use: Based on the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC-III)


Religiosity has been suggested to be protective against substance use disorder (SUD) initiation but its impact of the progression of development is not known.


This study investigated the impact of religiosity/spirituality on the development of heavy use and SUD following substance use initiation (alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco) utilizing data from the 2012 to 2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III.


Individuals with a known age at onset of substance initiation were included (n = 30,590, n = 11,126, and n = 14,083; for alcohol, cannabis, or tobacco users, respectively). Religiosity was measured by importance of religious/spiritual beliefs and frequency of religious service attendance. The percentage of individuals who progressed to an SUD after substance initiation in each substance was estimated. Discrete-time analysis and survival analysis were used to measure the impact of religiosity on the progression from substance initiation to heavy use and from heavy use to SUD.


After controlling for various variables, religious services attendance frequency was statistically associated with a slower progression from substance initiation to heavy use for all three substances: tobacco by 8% to 15%, cannabis by 5% to 26%, and alcohol 9% (p ⩽ .01). Religious importance was associated with slower progression to heavy use in cannabis users by 16% to 21% (p ⩽ .02). Religiosity (believes and attendance) was associated with slowed progression from heavy use to SUD development in alcohol users only.


The findings illustrate strongest association between attending religious services and lower probabilities of progressing to heavy/daily use after substance use initiation for alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis users. This indicates the potential use of religious services as social support for individuals with risky substance use.


Substance use; addiction; progression; religiosity; service attendance.

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