Rechazando Las Drogas: La Religión y El Matrimonio

In their fight against the use of illegal drugs among Latinos—the nation’s largest and still rapidly growing minority group—law-enforcement officers have need of every support. And according to a study recently completed at California State University, San Bernadino, religion and wedlock count as two particularly powerful allies.  

The reasons for the Cal State researchers’ inquiry into drug use among Latinos demand attention. “Substance use remains a significant public health issue in the United States,” these analysts point out, “with an annual estimated $11 billion in national health care costs each year.” These burdensome costs are the direct result of the way substance use incubates “a plethora of risky behaviors and negative health outcomes including addiction, anxiety disorders, violent behaviors, paranoia, lung disease, hypoxia, heart failure, increased risk of premature delivery, and various sexually transmitted diseases.”

And though the researchers recognize that rates of drug use run highest among late adolescents and young adults in their twenties, they point to a dramatic surge in recent years among adult drug use as justification for their decision to focus on adults. The data for their study come from a survey of a national random sample of 6,119 Hispanics.

Through careful analysis of the data, the Cal State scholars identify a number of statistical predictors of illegal drug use and of its avoidance. Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that men are more likely to use illegal drugs than women, and younger adults are more likely to use such drugs than older adults. Less predictably, perhaps, the data indicate that Latinos fluent in English are more likely to use illegal drugs than Latino peers who speak only Spanish fluently. (Immersion in twenty-first-century American culture entails dangerous perils.) 

But two findings of this study deserve particular attention: Hispanic adults are decidedly less likely to use illegal drugs if they are distinctively religious rather than religiously indifferent and if they are married rather than single.

The data reveal that among Latino adults who acknowledge the “influence of religious beliefs” in their lives, about 39% reported lifetime substance use compared to 53% of peers with “lower or no religious influence” in their lives.

Analysis of the data also establishes that “those who were married were significantly less likely to have used illegal drugs during the last year than those who were not” (p < 0.0001).

The authors of the new study hope that their findings will guide “targeted health promotion measures to reduce substance use burden in the nation.” More particularly, the researchers believe “drug use prevention measures could be targeted at more acculturated Hispanics” and at Hispanics who lack “nondrug associated social interactions, such as religious gatherings.”

The researchers reveal all too much about the ideologies dominating academe by declining to say anything at all in their conclusions about wedlock as a potent check on drug abuse.

(Benjamin J. Becerra et al., “Religion, Acculturation, and Incarceration: Determinants of Substance Use Among Hispanic Adults in the United States,” Journal of Environmental Public Health 2014: 459596, Web.)