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Religion and Substance Abuse Treatment: Individual and Program Effects

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The relationship between personal religiousness and substance abuse treatment outcomes has emerged as an important issue in the public health arena. Using the “moral community” perspective, a conceptual framework developed by Stark, Kent, and Doyle (1982) to analyze the contextual effects of religion, we explore the degree to which religion influences two drug treatment outcome measures—critical retention and commitment to treatment. The data are derived from the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Studies (DATOS), a national study of 10,010 clients enrolled in 70 drug treatment programs. Three research questions were addressed: (1) What is the relationship between an individual's level of religiosity and retention in treatment and commitment to treatment? (2) How does the ecological context of treatment programs shape the individual-level relationships? (3) To what extent are program practices and characteristics directly linked to outcome level? The findings are supportive of the literature that shows a weak to moderate relationship between religiosity and treatment outcomes. However, the findings did not show strong support for the “moral community” hypothesis. Although there was a wide variation in the size of the individual-level religiosity–treatment correlations, the variation could not be conclusively attributed to the overall religious emphasis of the programs. The findings suggest that further research is needed in order to understand fully the role of religion in substance abuse treatment.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Joseph J. Shields, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Social Work at the National Catholic School of Social Service, the Catholic University of America. 2: Kirk M. Broome, Ph.D. is Research Scientist at the Institute of Behavioral Research, Texas Christian University., Email: 3: Peter J. Delany, Ph.D. is Program Director for Health Services Research at the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health., Email: 4: Bennett W. Fletcher is Senior Research Psychologist at the National Institute for Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health., Email: 5: Patrick M. Flynn, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology and Deputy Director of the Institute of Behavioral Research at Texas Christian University., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2007


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