9. Religion and Drug Use

By Rick D. Hawks and Stephen H. Bahr

Ricky D. Hawks and Stephen H. Bahr, “Religion and Drug Use,” in Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints, ed. Daniel K. Judd (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1999), 169–178.

Religion and Drug Use

Ricky D. Hawks and Stephen H. Bahr

 

Ricky D. Hawks was chief psychologist of Weber County Human Services and Stephen H. Bahr was professor of sociology at Brigham Young University when this was published. This article was originally published in Journal of Drug Education 22:1–8; reprinted with permission.

 

Abstract

This article analyzes a 1989 study by the Utah State Division of Alcoholism and Drugs in an effort to find patterns in prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse. Respondents were former alcohol users who are Latter-day Saints, members of other religions, or persons who have no religious affiliation. Because of the Church’s strong emphasis on abstinence, LDS users of alcohol tend to start at an older age when compared with the respondents of other religions or of no religion. LDS users also exhibit less frequency in their use of alcohol. However, the results show no difference between the three groups of respondents when testing for first use of marijuana or the quantity of alcohol consumed.

 

Drug use has become a major social problem in America. It is estimated that the total cost for alcohol and drug abuse exceeds $200 billion per year (Ria, 1990). A 1989 Gallup poll shows that 63 percent of Americans feel that drug abuse is the number one problem in America.

In order to prevent and treat drug abuse, increased knowledge is needed of social characteristics related to drug use. Religion is one social characteristic associated with drug use. An understanding of drug use patterns among different abstinence-teaching religious groups may be useful in prevention and treatment efforts. Implications for other abstinence-teaching populations, such as the current national trend of teaching young Americans to “Just Say No,” might be inferred from this study.

About two-thirds of Utah residents belong to one religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as LDS or Mormon) (Heaton, 1986). Since LDS do not believe in using tobacco, alcohol, coffee, or tea, they are a good population to examine for drug patterns and problems among an abstinent culture. For example, “paradoxical alcohol use” is theorized to occur among members of an abstinence-teaching culture when they drink. That is to say, most members of an abstinence-teaching group do not use alcohol. However, national research suggests that when members of an abstinence-teaching group, such as the LDS, do drink, they tend to drink more heavily and more frequently than their peers (Hawks, 1990). The purpose of this research is to examine how religious affiliation is associated with alcohol and drug use in Utah.

Methods​

This study is a secondary analysis of data collected by Dan Jones & Associates using an interview method. Under the sponsorship of the Utah State Division of Alcoholism and Drugs, Dan Jones & Associates conducted the “1989 Utah Household Survey on Substance Abuse.” The original study was based on the responses of over 5,200 samples of Utah residents over the age of eighteen who responded to a specially constructed survey instrument. A Chi Square statistic was used in the analysis of these data with a level of significance set at p .001.

Results

Source of alcohol for LDS respondents. Only those survey respondents who reported some prior alcohol use were used as subjects (N = 3,591). Respondents were asked to mark one of the seven options for obtaining their “first alcohol.” A Chi-Square test was completed (Table 9.1) which determined the difference was significant among LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion survey respondents in obtaining alcohol from “a friend or an associate.”

Table 9.1: Percent Whose First Alcohol Source Was a Friend or an Associate

 

LDS

Other Religions

No Religion

A friend or an associate

66.4%

51.7%

62.5%

Sample size

(2,111)

(974)

(506)

A higher percentage of LDS respondents (66.4 percent) marked “a friend or an associate” as a source for obtaining their first alcohol than did respondents from the Other Religions (51.7 percent) and No Religion (62.5 percent) subgroups. The results obtained for “source of alcoholic beverages” were in the expected direction. Since LDS families would not likely consume alcohol themselves, alcohol would not be available from parents and/or brothers or sisters for LDS persons. LDS persons would tend to seek their alcohol from other sources such as from “a friend or an associate.”

Age of first alcohol use. Each respondent was asked at what age they first used alcohol. Responses were obtained from 3,526 subjects who reported some prior alcohol use. Responses are depicted in Table 9.2.

Table 9.2: Age of First Alcohol Use by Religion

 

LDS (percent)

Other Religions (percent)

No religion (percent)

13 & under

14.6

18.1

18.1

14–17

48.6

50.9

59.4

18 & older

36.8

31.0

22.5

Sample size

(2,071)

(958)

(497)

There was a trend that the various subgroup members first used alcohol at different ages. A smaller percentage of LDS persons (63.2 percent) first used alcohol at age seventeen or younger compared to a larger percentage of persons from the Other Religions (69 percent) and the No Religion (77.5 percent) subgroups. On the other hand, a larger percentage of LDS persons (36.8 percent) first used alcohol at age eighteen or older compared to persons from the Other Religions (31 percent) and No Religion (22.5 percent) subgroups. The late onset of LDS alcohol first use had been identified in earlier research (Hawks, 1987).

The No Religion subgroup appears to have an earlier first use of alcohol than do the LDS and Other Religions subgroups (see Table 9.2). This would suggest that religious affiliation has a tendency to delay the first use of alcohol.

Age of first marijuana use. Each respondent was asked at what age they first used marijuana. Responses were obtained from 1,371 subjects who reported some prior marijuana use. Three different categories for age of first use were defined. These categories included: thirteen and under, fourteen to seventeen, and eighteen and older. There was no significant difference among the LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion subgroups.

Frequency of Alcohol Use. Two measures of alcohol use frequency were used: most recent use of alcohol and alcohol use during the last thirty days. The research sample was truncated to include only those survey respondents who reported prior alcohol use. After all those respondents who reported no alcohol use were eliminated, 3,691 remained. There was a significant difference between frequency of alcohol use among LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion subgroups. Only 31 percent of the LDS respondents reported alcohol use within thirty days, compared to the much higher percentages reported by the Other Religions (62.5 percent) and No Religion (68.3 percent) respondents. In addition, 42.8 percent of the LDS sample reported their most recent use to be greater than three years compared to 11.9 percent of the Other Religions and 2.6 percent of the No Religion samples (see Table 9.3).

The research sample was truncated again to include only those respondents who reported alcohol use within the last thirty days. After all other respondents were eliminated, 1,660 subjects remained. There was a significant difference in the frequency of alcohol use among research subgroups for the last thirty days. The results are illustrated in Table 9.4.

Table 9.3: Percent with Recent Alcohol Use by Religion

 

LDS (percent)

Other Religions (percent)

No religion (percent)

Within 30 days

31.0

62.5

68.3

> 30 days but < 6 months

10.9

14.4

14.8

> 6 months but ≤ one year

7.4

5.1

4.5

> one year but ≤ 3 years

7.9

6.0

9.8

> 3 years

42.8

11.9

2.6

Sample size

(2,199)

(986)

(506)

Table 9.4: Frequency of Alcohol Use in Past Thirty Days by Religion

 

LDS (percent)

Other Religions (percent)

No religion (percent)

1–3 days of last 30

51.2

38.7

36.2

4–12 days of last 30

32.0

36.3

41.8

13–20 days of last 30

12.7

13.9

13.4

21–30 days of last 30

4.1

11.5

8.6

Sample size

(684)

(617)

(359)

LDS survey respondents used alcohol less frequently than Other Religions and No Religion subgroups when frequency was defined as most recent use of alcohol (see Table 9.3) and alcohol use during the last thirty days (see Table 9.4). A total of 51 percent of those LDS persons reporting alcohol use during the last thirty days used only “One to three days of the last thirty” compared to 39 percent of the Other Religions and 36 percent of the No Religion respondents.

Quantity of alcohol use. The quantity of alcohol was the dependent variable and was equivalent to “How many of the past thirty days did you have this number of drinks?” Four different categories for “number of drinks” were defined. These categories included: 1–3, 4–12, 13–20, and 21–30. There was no significant difference among the LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion subgroups. Another measurement of quantity of alcohol was defined by, “During the past thirty days what is the most you had to drink on any one day?” Four different levels were organized. These levels included 1–3, 4–6, 7–12, and 13+. There was no significant difference among the LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion subgroups.

Comparison to national data. To what extent do Utah respondents compare to national data? This question can be answered by comparing the Utah data with the General Social Survey (GSS). GSS is a national survey of adults conducted annually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The surveys from 1972 to 1988 were pooled into a total sample size of 28,284. There were 284 LDS in the pooled GSS sample. A comparison of alcohol use in Utah and the United States by religious affiliation is shown in Figure 9.1 (Bahr, 1990). For all religions except Judaism, a lower percentage of Utahns used alcohol than their national counterparts. It would appear that the abstinence teachings in Utah tend to inhibit alcohol consumption among the general population and not just among LDS.

Discussion

LDS alcohol users are more likely to obtain their alcohol from “a friend or an associate” than from family members. LDS alcohol users do appear to have a later age of onset for alcohol use than do the Other Religions and No Religion group members. However, LDS members who reported marijuana use did not differ significantly in the age of first use from those of Other Religions and No Religion subgroups. The LDS religion appears to be more effective in delaying alcohol first use than marijuana first use.

The large percentage of alcohol abstainers and the delayed onset of first alcohol use among the LDS might best be explained by the LDS religion having historically focused specifically on abstinence from alcohol. Dyer and Kunz (1986) researched how two hundred LDS families that are rated as highly effective live, think, and act. The respondents were selected by local LDS Church leaders from eight states. One question asked was, “What are the things your children must do?” In order of importance, the researchers reported that the parents of these effective LDS families had a sense of “must do” for their children to (1) “go to school every day” (94 percent); (2) “help around the house” (89 percent); (3) “live the word of wisdom” (82 percent); and (4) “obey Church standards” (82 percent). Compliance to the Word of Wisdom, the LDS doctrine which includes abstinence from alcohol, was the third most important “must do” behavior for these children. Obeying the Word of Wisdom was more important than “taking part in family prayer” (78 percent); going to Church (76 percent); practicing music (51 percent); and “saving for a mission” (49 percent).

There was a difference in frequency of alcohol use among LDS, Other Religions, and No Religion subgroups. However, there was no significant difference in “quantity” of alcohol use among the sub groups. In summary, the results of this study contraindicate paradoxical alcohol use in frequency and quantity measures. There is clear evidence for a “healthy” LDS alcohol user who drinks conservatively as measured by frequency.

A similar “healthy” LDS alcohol using population was found by Hawks (1990) in analyzing alcohol use patterns in another Utah Survey. Theoretically, an LDS drinking model appears to be trimodal in its distribution as depicted in Figure 9.2.

Figure 9.2: The Theoretical Distribution for an LDS Alcohol Use Model

The largest LDS subpopulation includes those who abstain from alcohol, the second largest are those “healthy” drinkers who use less frequently than peers, and the third and smallest subpopulation (based on previous research) appears to be those who drink paradoxically.

References​

Bahr, S. J. (1990, October). LDS substance abuse. Paper presented at the XII Annual Conference on Substance Abuse, Park City, UT.

Dyer, W. G, & Kunz, P. R. (1986). Effective Mormon families: How they see themselves. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

Gallup, G. J. (1989, September). The Gallup report. (Report No. 288).

Hawks, R. D. (1987). An analysis of alcohol use patterns among adolescent members of the LDS Church. Unpublished dissertation, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

Hawks, R. D. (1990). Alcohol use among LDS and other groups teaching abstinence. In R. R. Watson (Ed.), Drug and alcohol abuse prevention (pp. 133–149). Clifton, NJ: The Humana Press.

Heaton, T. D. (1986). The demography of Utah Mormons. In T K. Martin, T. B. Heaton, & S. J. Bahr (Eds.), Demographic perspective (pp. 181–193). Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Ria, J. (1990). Treatment works. Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.