People who consider themselves religiously devout are less likely to use drugs, according to a new analysis.
The analysis, by DrugAbuse.com, compared data from the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study with the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It compared states where residents identified themselves as religious with the drug use survey's findings on drug abuse by location.
While employing the often-used caveat that correlation does not imply causation, the analysis attempted to go beyond the superficial link -- that people who live in religious communities are less likely to abuse drugs -- by incorporating other factors that impact whether people decide to use drugs.
In one example, Vermont was identified as the least religious state in the country, based on data from the Pew study, and had the third highest rate of reported drug use among U.S. states. By contrast, Alabama, which ranked as the most religious state, according to Pew, ranked near the bottom in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The authors of the DrugAbuse.com analysis cautioned against drawing direct conclusions from the data.
"After all, a lot more than religion differentiates Alabama and Vermont, including obesity rates, political affiliations, climate, sports teams, and so on," the researchers wrote.
The analysis pointed to marked differences in culture among U.S. states and regions.
For example, studies have consistently shown that children who regularly have dinner with their parents are less likely to abuse drugs, while data shows that religious families eat together more regularly than nonreligious families.
The data also showed links between parental supervision and drug use. In one survey, children who said their parents "always know where they are when they go out at night" were overwhelmingly from religious households.
The analysis found that, because religious activities often take up free time, children who are involved in religious programs are less likely to be involved in activities in which they're exposed to drugs. That's called “time displacement," the authors of the analysis said, citing research from the Journal of Religion and Health.
For the data to be useful, they wrote, the key is to find out why people who describe themselves as religious are less likely to abuse drugs. While drug abuse educators might not use religion to help prevent children from experimenting and using drugs, they could apply lessons and methods from religious communities to combat drug abuse in secular enclaves.
"In a broader sense, researchers who have investigated this topic have postulated that religiosity can be seen as a 'proxy for conventionalism,'" the authors wrote. "The challenge, therefore, is to figure out ways of providing unconventional individuals with the same support, guidance, and treatment that religious people receive from their faith-based lifestyles."