*The following is excerpted from an online article from Deseret News.
A new study by researchers from the University of Florida and published by the American Psychological Association found that adolescents who grow up with strong religious worldviews are less likely to use drugs and alcohol.
James Shepperd, a professor of psychology and co-author of the study, said the term "worldview" should be understood as "an explanatory way of seeing the world." It is the frame through which people answer questions like "Who am I?," "Why am I here?" and "How should I behave?" Not all worldviews are religious, but religious worldviews can be particularly effective at discouraging substance use because most religions offer guidance for everyday behavior that strengthens adolescents' moral grounding and worldview.
Shepperd and his colleagues correctly predicted that worldviews are not only stronger among religious adolescents, but also that these stronger outlooks reduce the likelihood of substance use. Experts said the study's conclusions have implications for parents and religious leaders, who can nurture a sense of purpose that helps teens say no to drugs and alcohol.
In the study, researchers were unconcerned with the content of participants' worldviews. Instead, they focused on how strongly beliefs were held, scaling the responses of religious and nonreligious adolescents and then analyzing substance use across the two groups.
Survey responses were collected from 1,253 Florida ninth graders. As predicted, religious adolescents displayed a stronger sense of worldview across four tested areas: meaning in life, moral compass, integrity and the ethics of lying.
Additionally, religious adolescents were less likely to report substance use. "Analysis revealed that nonreligious adolescents, compared with religious adolescents, were more likely in the prior six months, to have smoked cigarettes (14 percent versus 6 percent), drunk alcohol (34 percent versus 19 percent), and used marijuana (17 percent versus 7 percent)," the study reported.
Sheppard noted that one of the study's most interesting findings was that religious belief actually isn't required for a strong worldview, even if it is more common among faithful teens. Further, a stronger worldview predicted substance use equally well for both religious and nonreligious adolescents.
"We know that kids who are not religious are getting a worldview from somewhere, maybe from the larger culture," Shepperd said. "And if they have one, it makes a difference" in their substance use decisions.