Religion may or may not be the opium of the masses; however, results from a study carried out at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland state that religion plays an important role in keeping people away from substance abuse. The study was led by Gerhard Gmel and it concluded that drug abuse by Swiss who professed to a religion was less than that by those who claimed to be atheists.
The study was conducted for more than one year and involved questioning young men in Lausanne, Windisch, and Mels. The accumulated responses led the researchers to segregate participants into five discrete categories.
In the first group they placed respondents who professed faith in God and followed the rituals of their religion. In the second group, they placed those who were of a spiritual bent of mind but were not keen practitioners of any religion. The third group consisted of those who were not clear about religion. Agnostics, or those who neither accept nor reject the presence of God, made up the fourth group. Atheists, those that do not believe in God, made up the fifth group.
Researchers noticed that there was a correlation between religion and using drugs. The views on drug abuse varied with the group. One out of three from the religious group smoked daily. The figure was one out of two for the atheist group. Similarly, from the religious group around 20% had consumed cannabis more than once in a week and less than 1% had taken a hard drug like cocaine. In the latter group, the figure was 36% for pot smokers and around 6% for ecstasy and cocaine users. The views and addictive habits of those in the spiritual and agnostic groups fell somewhere in between these two extremes. Though the disparity in drug use between the religious and atheist groups appears remarkable, it is important to note that the sample size of the atheist group was three times that of the group comprising religious Swiss nationals.
The above research suggests that addictive behavior can be tempered by protective factors. Religion is one such protective factor. However, the role of ethical and moral values of the participants and social restrictions that accompany religion are open to question. Further research may help us understand why religious people are less inclined to use and abuse addictive substances.
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