Methods: Data was abstracted from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative cohort study that followed adolescents into adulthood. Surveys were administered in-home using self-administered computer-assisted protocols for sensitive items. The sample (N=3,223) consisted of self-identified African Americans who completed both Waves I (T1) and IV (T2). Participants were 12–19 years old at T1 and 24—32 years old at T2.
The independent variable was created from the item which asked individuals how often they attended religious services in the past 12 months (e.g., consistent attenders=participants who attended services at least once a week at T1 and T2). The dependent variables consisted of seven measures of substance use at T2 (four lifetime measures of cocaine, marijuana, cigarettes, and other drug use, and three measures of short-term marijuana and cigarette use). A diverse array of covariates were also included in the study. For variables with missing data, multiple imputation was conducted using chained equations to estimate the missing values. Twenty imputed files were created for subsequent analysis. Seven separate logistic regressions were conducted to identify the independent effects of service attendance on each measure of substance use.
Results: African American young adults who consistently attended services at T1 and T2 had significantly lower odds of using substances across all seven outcomes, compared to the reference group (those who never attended at T1 and T2), with one exception (i.e., lifetime cigarette use). The odds ratios ranged from 0.28 (CI=0.10-0.85) for lifetime cocaine use to 0.64 (CI=0.46-0.91) for the lifetime marijuana use. Overall, the values are commonly considered to represent a medium effect size.
Conclusions: The protective effects of consistent service attendance on young adult substance use are relatively robust for African Americans, in keeping with the theory that stores of religious capital accumulate over time. The findings are consistent with prior scholarship indicating that religious capital aids in the prevention of substance use problems among African Americans (Cheney et al., 2016). Indeed, African American churches—which provide a haven from an often hostile society—have long played a consequential role in assisting individuals with a wide variety of substance use challenges (Wong et al., 2018). Social workers might advocate for policies that protect these institutions (e.g., from hate crimes) and practitioners might explore the availability of congregationally-based resources for clients interested in religion.