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So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2001
61 pages
This 2-year study by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) examined the link between God, religion, and spirituality and substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery.
As part of its study, CASA conducted two unprecedented surveys: one that queried presidents of schools of theology and seminaries about their perceptions of the extent of substance abuse problems and the formal training and courses offered in this subject; and another survey that asked clergy in the field about their views of substance abuse problems among their congregations and what training they had received in this area. As part of its study, CASA also analyzed three national data sets: the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse; CASA's Back to School Surveys; and the General Social Survey. Further, CASA reviewed more than 300 publications that had examined the link between spirituality, religion, and substance abuse and addiction, as well as a wide range of programs that incorporated spiritual or religious components in their prevention or treatment programs. Most study findings pertain to the Protestant and Catholic branches of Christianity and to a lesser extent the Jewish faith. No significant information could be found on the impact of Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism on substance abuse. The study found that God, religion, and spirituality were key factors for many in the prevention and treatment of their substance abuse and in continuing recovery. Adults who did not consider religious beliefs important were more than one and one-half times likelier to use alcohol and cigarettes, more than three times likelier to binge drink, almost four times likelier to use an illicit drug other than marijuana, and more than six times likelier to use marijuana than adults who strongly believed that religion was important. Teens who never attended religious services were twice as likely to drink, more than three times likelier to use marijuana and binge drink, and almost four times likelier to use illicit drugs than teens who attended religious services at least weekly. In the context of treatment, individuals who attended spiritually based support programs, such as 12-Step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, in addition to receiving treatment, were more likely to maintain sobriety. Based on these findings, CASA recommends a series of steps to combine the resources of religion and spirituality with those of science and medicine in order to enhance the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and to strengthen and maintain recovery. Recommendations focus on the clergy, physicians and treatment providers, and the expansion of the current knowledge base. Chapter notes, appended national data sets, CASA surveys of clergy and schools of theology, and 124 references