Abstract: A prospective examination of the religion's protective influence on substance use among Latino youth (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11466 A prospective examination of the religion's protective influence on substance use among Latino youth

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 10:00 AM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
David R. Hodge, PhD , Arizona State University, Assistant Professor, Glendale, AZ
Flavio F. Marsiglia, PhD , Arizona State University, Professor, Phoenix, AZ
Tanya Nieri, PhD , University of California, Riverside, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Riverside, CA
Background: Substance use prevalence rates are generally higher for Latino students compared to non-Hispanic white students, particularly in earlier grade levels before higher Latino drop-out rates influence the outcomes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008; Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman & Schulenberg, 2003). Yet, surprisingly little research on protective factors has been conducted with Latino samples (Amaro & Igachi, 2006), despite federal commitments to address health disparities, and the fact that Latinos are now the largest ethnic minority in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). One factor that may inhibit substance use among Latino youth is religion, a multidimensional construct that can be understood in terms of affiliation, participation and importance (Stewart & Bolland, 2007). Drawing upon social capital theory (Putnam, 2000), this prospective study posited that: 1) religious affiliation at Time 1 (T1) will be unrelated to substance use at Time 2 (T2), 2) religious participation at T1 will predict lower levels of substance use at T2, 3) the self-ascribed importance of religion at T1 will predict lower levels of substance use at T2.

Method: The sample consisted of youth of Mexican heritage (N=804) drawn from thirty-nine schools in a large city. At T1, all students in grade five were selected to participate. An attrition analysis revealed no major differences between those who remained in the study two years later at T2 compared to those who dropped out of the study. Surveys—available in English and Spanish—were administered by trained university proctors. The survey included items to assess religious affiliation, attendance (never=0 to every week=5), and importance (not important=1 to very important=4), and 30-day and lifetime use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and inhalants. The latter items—based upon Flannery and associates (1994) work—were chosen for their developmental appropriateness and their similarity to measures used in other large studies of adolescent substance use (Hecht, et al., 2003; Kandel & Wu, 1995). Logistic regression was used to test the hypothesized relationships between religion and substance use while controlling for gender, age, SES, academic performance, and linguistic acculturation.

Results: With one exception (recent alcohol use), the first hypothesis was confirmed; religious affiliation at T1 did not predict recent or lifetime substance use at T2. With three exceptions, the second hypothesis was supported; higher levels of religious attendance at T1 was inversely associated with recent alcohol use, and recent and lifetime marijuana and inhalant use at T2. Conversely, the third hypothesis was unconfirmed (with two exceptions—religious importance at T1 was inversely associated with the lifetime use of cigarettes and marijuana at T2).

Conclusion: The results suggest that religious attendance exhibits a greater protective influence than self-ascribed importance of religion. Participation in religious networks may provide youth with a forum in which to develop relationships with positive peer groups and adults. Given the degree that religion is woven into Latino culture (Wilson 2008), this finding may help explain the discrete pathways through which culture exhibits a protective influence, although further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.