Is Religiosity a Protective Factor Against Substance Use in Young Adulthood? Only If You're Straight!

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85 Scopus citations


Purpose: Previous research has documented that substance use peaks during young adulthood and that religiosity provides a protective effect against binge drinking, marijuana use, and cigarette smoking. The majority of these studies do not examine sexual identity as it relates to these factors. Drawing on social influence and developmental theories, we tested the hypothesis that religiosity would provide a protective effect for heterosexual but not sexual minority young adults. Method: Waves 1 and 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health provided data for the study. Three young adult sexual identity groups were formed: sexual minorities who did not report same-sex attraction at Wave 1 (NA), sexual minorities who did report same-sex attraction at Wave 1 (SSA), and heterosexuals (HET) (sample n = 764). Results: Religiosity measured at baseline had no significant effect on past-year substance use, measured six years later in sexual minority young adults. For heterosexual young adults, each unit increase in religiosity reduced the odds of binge drinking by 9%, marijuana use by 20%, and cigarette smoking by 13%. Conclusions: Religiosity was not protective against substance use in sexual minority young adults, cautioning against over-generalizing previous findings about the protective effects of religiosity. Future studies that 1) consider the social context for sexual identity development, 2) model both risk and protective factors, and 3) use multidimensional measures of religiosity (and spirituality) and sexual identity are needed to build the necessary knowledge base for effective health promotion efforts among sexual minority youth and young adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-447
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research used data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant No. P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgement is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Stress, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 ( ).


  • Adolescents
  • Binge drinking
  • Bisexual
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Gay
  • Lesbian
  • Marijuana use
  • Sexual minority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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