Religiosity Affects Substance Use in Thrill-Seeking Teens

Adolescents who have thrill-seeking personalities are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. “Among risk factors in the individual domain, sensation seeking consistently has been identified as a positive predictor of health risk behaviors (Zuckerman, 2006), including substance use,” said Alex W. Mason of the National Research Institute for Child and Family Studies in Boys Town, Nebraska, and lead author of a recent study. “An important adolescent protective factor in the individual domain is religiosity.” Previous research has shown that religious values and church attendance heavily influence a teen and can prevent them from engaging in risky behaviors. To test this theory further, Mason led a study examining how the various aspects of religiosity affected teen substance use. “In summary, this study examines thrill-seeking measured in early adolescence and two dimensions of religiosity, religious salience and religious attendance, measured throughout the teen years in relation to late adolescent substance use frequency among a sample of rural youth,” said Mason.

Participants in the study included 322 male and 345 female 11-year-olds from a rural community. Mason assessed their religiosity, substance use and thrill-seeking behaviors over a seven year period, ending when the children were 18, and found that thrill-seeking was a major factor in predicting drug and alcohol use later on. “Although thrill-seeking can be expressed in many pro-social ways among teens, a thrill-seeking orientation may represent a marker of risk for involvement in antisocial and health compromising activities, including substance use.” Mason also found that religiosity decreased substance use in the youth, even in those with thrill-seeking tendencies. He noted that the results of this study could have significant practical implications. “In particular, results suggest that adolescents could be screened for high levels of thrill-seeking (along with other known risk characteristics in the individual, family, peer, school, and community domains) and referred for substance use prevention programming.” He added, “Furthermore, although the precise nature of the relationship between religiosity and adolescent substance use remains to be determined, acknowledging the importance of religion for some teens involved in substance use prevention programs may facilitate engagement with the materials and help reinforce anti-substance use messages and skill-building exercises.”

Mason, Alex W., and Richard L. Spoth. “Thrill Seeking and Religiosity in Relation to Adolescent Substance Use: Tests of Joint, Interactive, and Indirect Influences.”Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 25.4 (2011): 683-96. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kendra


    December 27th, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    This is kind of odd because when I was in school the preachers kids were always the ones doing drugs and acting all kind of wild!

  • Bonnie


    December 28th, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    There are many in this world who have religion at the center of their lives, and I happen to think that this is so important! There are times when nothing else can get you through a tough situation aside from your religious beliefs and your faith that there is a higher power to get you through it. I know that there are people who think that this is simplified thinking but for me it is quite powerful and apparently that is the case with others too. Church and religion have always been such an important part in our society and to see that it can further help young people make it through all of the trials that adolescence poses is pretty awesome.

  • ARiEllE


    December 28th, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    Teens are gonna experiment and try new things right? Sometimes the most religios people in the world slip and fall. That does not mean that they can’t get back on track, but it does mean that we are all human and that at times we are all gonna make mistakes. Personally I just want to be there to give them a soft place to fall when inevitably they do.

  • Sharon


    December 30th, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Most kids try drugs and alcohol because they want to do something new and also because they do not know what to do with their energies.When religion enters the picture,it not only accommodates their energies(at least some of it) but also discourages drug use.So I am perfectly satisfied with what this study has proven.

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