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Take Teens to Church to Prevent Underage Drinking

Kids Involved in Religion Less Likely to Drink or do Drugs

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Updated July 12, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Teen and Parent

Get Involved With Your Teen

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If you are the parents of teens or children about to become teens, there is something that you can do that will greatly reduce their chances of becoming involved in alcohol and drugs: take them to church.

No, that's not a faith-based opinion, there is actual research that shows that teens who are involved in religious or spiritual activities are less likely to do drugs or drink alcohol.

You may think that is a no-brainer, that teens who are religious are less likely to drink and drug compared to those who are not involved in religion, but what may surprise you is just how much difference it makes.

Teens involved in religious activities are half as likely to have substance abuse problems, according to several research studies.

Religion Deters Drug Use in Teens

A recent study at Brigham Young University of 4,983 adolescents and their relationship with their parents found that those who were involved in religious activities were significantly less likely to become involved with substance abuse or have friends who are involved.

That same BYU research team conducted an earlier study in 2008 that found that religious involvement makes teens half as likely to use marijuana, a significant finding because marijuana is by far the most popular illegal drug among teens.

Overcoming Genetic Predisposition for Alcoholism

There is also research that shows that involvement in spiritual pursuits can even overcome a genetic tendency for alcoholism in teens who have a family history of drinking problems. A study conducted at the University of Colorado at Boulder of 1,432 twin pairs who had family histories of alcohol abuse revealed that genetic influence could be overcome.

The researchers found that "religiosity" exerted a strong enough influence over the behavior of adolescents to override their genetic predisposition for alcoholism. On the other hand, those twins who were nonreligious were much more influenced by genetic factors for problem alcohol use.

Teens Are Half as Likely to Drink

A study in 2000 at Columbia University found that teens who have an active spiritual life are half as likely to become alcoholics or drug addicts or even try illegal drugs than those who have no religious beliefs or training.

The Columbia study of 676 adolescents aged 15 to 19 found that teens with a higher degree of personal devotion, personal conservatism, and institutional conservatism were less likely to engage in alcohol consumption and less likely to engage in marijuana or cocaine use.

The authors of that study concluded that if teens do not find spiritual experiences within a religious setting, they will go "shopping" for them in other endeavors.

Religion Can Help High-Risk Teens

Also, teens who are at high risk for developing substance abuse problems -- those who have a family history or who are influenced by social pressures -- might be protected from substance dependence or abuse if they engage in spiritual or religious pursuits, research shows.

You may have noticed that the suggestion is to take your children to church, not send them. Of course, becoming involved in religious activities will not prevent all teens from using alcohol or drugs and some of the studies referenced here are limited in their scope, surveying white Christian teens rather than, say, inner-city youth. But there are no studies that say that taking your children to church makes them more likely to get involved with substance abuse.

The key seems to be to become more involved in your children's lives and be a good example. The BYU study found that parents who are most involved with their children -- those who monitor their activities as well as have a warm, loving relationship -- are more likely to have children who do not drink heavily.

Become More Involved With Your Teen

But it is important to do both -- emphasize accountability and have a warm, loving relationship.

Teens of "strict" parents who rated high on accountability but low on warmth, were twice as likely to binge-drink, the study found. Teens who had "indulgent" parents, who were rated high on warmth, but low on accountability, were three times more likely to binge-drink.

The bottom line for parents is to become more involved in your children's lives and don't be afraid of monitoring their friends and activities. And if you want to give them an extra layer of protection from becoming drawn into substance abuse, take them to church.

Sources:

Bahr, S.J., et al. "Parenting Style, Religiosity, Peers, and Adolescent Heavy Drinking." Journal on Studies of Alcohol and Drugs. July 2010.

Bahr, S.J., et al. "Religiosity, Peers, and Adolescent Drug Use." Journal of Drug Issues. October 2008.

Button, T.M.M, et al. "The Moderating Effect of Religiosity on the Genetic Variance of Problem Alcohol Use." Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. June 2010.

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