CASA REPORT: SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION REDUCE RISK OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
94.4% of Clergy Consider Substance Abuse Important Issue In Their Congregations – Only 12.5% Receive Any Training
Many Health Professionals Fail To Take Advantage Of Importance Of Religion And Spirituality In Preventing And Treating Substance Abuse
Washington, D.C.– In the first analysis of its kind, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University released today a 52-page two-year study, So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality. The report finds that tapping the power of religion and spirituality has enormous potential for lowering the risk of substance abuse among teens and adults and, when combined with professional treatment, for promoting recovery.
Special CASA analyses of National Household Survey data, its own Teen Surveys and the General Social Survey reveal that adults and teens who consider religion to be very important and who attend religious services weekly or more are far less likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs. Individuals who, in addition to receiving treatment, attend spiritually-based support programs, such as the 12-Step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are more likely to maintain sobriety. Individuals in successful recovery often show greater levels of faith and spirituality than those who relapse.
“If ever the sum were greater than the parts, it is in combining the power of God, religion and spirituality with the power of science and professional medicine to prevent and treat substance abuse and addiction.“ said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
In light of the significance of religion and spirituality to the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, the most troubling findings of this report are the discoveries of two profound disconnects:
- The extent to which clergy see substance abuse as a problem among their congregations yet lack the knowledge and training of how to deal with the problem. Of the clergy that CASA surveyed, 94.4 percent consider substance abuse and addiction to be important issues among family members in their congregations and almost 38 percent believe that alcohol abuse is involved in at least half of the problems they confront. Yet, only 12.5 percent of priests, ministers and rabbis received any substance abuse training during their theological studies and only 36.5 percent preach a sermon addressing the issue more than once a year.
- The failure among health care professionals—especially psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers—to take advantage of the importance of God, religion and spirituality in prevention and in their treatment of those struggling with addiction and sobriety. Although 95 percent of Americans believe in God and 79 percent believe that spiritual faith can help people recover from disease, more than half of mental health practitioners do not believe in God and 43 percent of psychiatrists would not recommend that their patients consult with a member of the clergy for help even if given scientific evidence that prayer improved patient progress.
“Too often, clergy and physicians, religion and science are ships passing in the night. When we separate the worlds of medicine and spirituality, we deny effective help to a host of individuals with substance abuse problems,” said Califano.
The report—the first comprehensive analysis of the connection between spirituality, religion and substance abuse (including alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs)—reveals that the positive results of a religious or spiritual connection are not limited to those who attend church frequently.
“Studies show that people with strong religious beliefs are healthier, heal faster and live longer than those without them, regardless of their individual spiritual faith or spiritual practice,” said Susan E. Foster, CASA’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis.
CASA calls for action to tap into the power of religion and spirituality to help prevent substance abuse and addiction and improve recovery:
- Train clergy to recognize signs of substance abuse and alcoholism and how to deal with them. Clergy should incorporate prevention and recovery messages into their ministry and become familiar with treatment services in their communities.
- Train medical professionals to recognize the importance of spirituality and take advantage of spiritual and religious resources available in their local communities.
- Conduct more research to better understand and enhance the effectiveness of faith-based prevention initiatives and treatment programs.
As part of this study, CASA conducted two unprecedented surveys of presidents of schools of theology and seminaries and of clergy in the field, and conducted its own analysis of three national data sets: 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse; the General Social Survey; and CASA’s Back to School Surveys--Back to School 1999--National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse V: Teens and Their Parents and National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VI: Teens. CASA also undertook an extensive review of more than 300 publications that examine the link between spirituality and substance abuse and addiction. Finally, CASA looked at a wide range of programs that incorporate spiritual or religious components in prevention or treatment.
OTHER KEY FINDINGS
- Adults who do not consider religious beliefs important are more than one and one-half times likelier to smoke 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 believe that religion is important.
- Adults who never attend religious services are almost seven times likelier to drink, three times likelier to smoke, more than five times likelier to have used an illicit drug other than marijuana, almost seven times likelier to binge drink and almost eight times likelier to use marijuana than those who attend religious services at least weekly.
- Teens who do not consider religious beliefs important are almost three times likelier to drink, binge drink and smoke, almost four times likelier to use marijuana and seven times likelier to use illicit drugs than teens who strongly believe that religion is important.
- Teens who never attend religious services are twice as likely to drink, more than twice as likely to smoke, more than three times likelier to use marijuana and binge drink and almost four times likelier to use illicit drugs than teens who attend religious services at least weekly.
So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality was funded by The Bodman Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation.