Religiosity and its Effects on Risky Behavior

Ashley Conrad

Huntington University


By measuring religiosity and accountability, this research calculated whether or not these variables had an affect on risky behavior such as drinking underage. By looking at the importance of religiosity, accountability, peers, and family in college-age students, the study found if there was a significance between the variables and a student’s decision to participate in risky behavior.


I wanted to conduct this project because I wanted to find out whether religion and accountability have an influence on student’s choices in drinking and other types of risky behavior. If so, were these morals already in place, or do peers or other external factors influence the decisions that students make in college?

Let’s take a minute to define religiosity and how I planned on measuring it. Religiosity is the quality of being religious; affected, or excessive devotion to religion. In other words, higher religiosity would equal more devotion to one’s own religion. This was measured by finding out how often participants attended a religious organization, such as church, chapel, or Bible study, how important attending that religious organization is, how important the religious teachings are to them, and how religion affects their moral decisions. If we take these same concepts and apply them to accountability, then the importance of accountability can be measured in the same way. By measuring religiosity and accountability, my study calculated whether or not they had an affect on risky behavior such as drinking underage.

Literature Review

In order to conduct my study, I had to define underage drinking and religion. Underage drinking is defined as the consumption of alcohol under the age of 21. Religion is a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. Researchers Chawla, Neighbors, Lewis, Lee, and Larimer found that religion and personal importance of religion are associated with lower levels of alcohol use among adolescents and college students. This study evaluated the norms as a mediator of the importance of religion and alcohol use (Chawla 2007).

Researchers Ellison and Bradshaw’s study “confirmed the importance of religious salience in shaping alcohol choices, but at the same time it showed that overall levels of such salience in the sample was relatively low, indicating that other influences, such as peers or parents, are also important” (Ellison 2008). This study showed that social influences can also affect a person’s decision on drinking, and that religion wasn’t the dominant reason for this choice. Because of this, temptation can sometimes win over a person’s decisions even if they are affiliated with religion (Rinker 2013). This begins to lead into motives of why college students choose to participate in these activities. In my study, not only did I look at the motives for drinking, but also why religious affiliation was important to my participants.

Motivations for drinking underage can range from sporting activities, peer pressure, the college experience, or coping. Researchers Grant, Brown, and Moreno conducted a study with 72 college age students from a large Midwestern university and found that “social drinking motives were significantly associated with drinking behaviors; however, these drinking behaviors were not associated to the number of new casual or close friends students made in college” (Grant 2013). While this study showed a correlation between social influences and drinking, researchers Green, Nelson, and Hartmann showed in their study that organized sports are also linked to drinking (Green 2014). Wahesh, Milroy, and Lewis conducted a study with 63 (56% female, 62% Caucasian) first-year student-athletes, and had them fill out a preliminary questionnaire that assessed demographic characteristics, athlete-specific drinking motives, alcohol-related negative consequences, and season status and found a correlation between sports and drinking as well (Wahesh 2013).

Participation in sports also parallels with participation in drinking games, tailgating, and pre-gaming, which almost always concerns drinking. According to Moser, Pearson, Hustad, and Borsari, “these risky drinking practices are associated with higher levels of intoxication as well as an increased risk of alcohol-related problems” (Moser 2014). Therefore, social activities in colleges will increase the participation in drinking because it is seen as “the norm” and pressure from peers is much stronger. “Social Identity Theory posits that much of our identity is based on groups with which we affiliate; therefore, perceived descriptive norms are one of the strongest predictors of college drinking” (Rinker 2014). My study looked at the motives of why Christian college students choose to participate in social drinking, because usually small college campuses do not have sports such as football, and therefore do not have activities like tailgating and pre-gaming.

Coping and emotional imbalance can also lead to heavy drinking, especially in women. Messman-Moore and Ward created a study with 424 college women and found a positive correlation between heavy drinking and emotional dis-regulation and that the number of college women participating in heavy drinking was on the rise (Messman-Moore 2014); Foster and Young also show in their study that gender is related to heavy drinking (Foster 2014). This is another motive that could promote drinking to college students; college is new, a little scary, and far away from home. If peers are doing it, it could be easy for students to choose drinking as a coping mechanism.


My topic of research was whether or not religion has an affect on the decision to partake in college drinking, and whether this correlation is positive or negative. I looked at whether or not written documents such as a “Campus Life Agreement,” a written document of rules regulated by Huntington University, and accountability have any affect on these activities. The independent variable, or cause, was religion, and the dependent variable, or effect was the decision to drink underage. My hypothesis was that the less college students are involved in their religion, the more they will be willing to partake in such activities. On the other hand, if students are actively involved in religion and have some sort of accountability, then they will be less likely to partake in underage drinking. Other variables that affected my study were organized sports, social influences, social norms and college life, and emotional dis-regulation.


Participants for my study were selected through Huntington University and Facebook. Huntington University is a small, Liberal Arts Christian college in the Midwest. By getting permission from the University, I sent out emails to the student body of Huntington University. These emails were selected from the student directory to avoid any bias; so any race, gender, or age could have been included in my research. I had 112 participants (N=112), ages 18-50; 38 Males and 74 Females. Of these 112, 23 of them came from Facebook.

The measures I used in order to calculate my data were surveys via Survey Monkey. The same survey were emailed to each student containing the same type and number of questions. These questions included religious and secular views of drinking, again in order to avoid bias or leading the surveyer. I also included questions in my survey about the Campus Life Agreement (CLA), which is a document that all students have to sign, to see if this agreement actually works and keeps students accountable.

Since I used Survey Monkey, surveys were my only collection of data. I tested my hypothesis by recording whether or not religion and accountability keeps students from making decisions that could be considered risky. Some of the questions that I asked were:

  1. How important to you is attending a religious organization? (Church, Small Group, Chapel, Volunteer Work, Bible Study)
  2. How important to you are the teachings and beliefs of the religious organization you attend?
  3. Do you have someone in your life that keeps you accountable?
  4. What does accountability mean to you?
  5. How important is accountability in your life? Rank what keeps you most accountable (see Table 1).
  6. How often do you follow and break the Campus Life Agreement? (Where do you break it?)
  7. How many estimated drinks do you have per week?
  8. Do peers influence the amount of alcohol you consume?
  9. Do you believe that religion/accountability/ CLA keeps you from participating in risky behavior?

These are just a few of the questions that I asked participants.

Table 1



When analyzing my data I found that gender was not found to be related to religiosity nor to risky behavior (50% male, 50% female). Males and Females had an equal chance of being religious or being involved in risky behavior. Also, age was negatively correlated with church attendance (r= -.28*) I found that as people got older, they were more likely to be secular or non-religious. This outcome was due to the fact that Facebook was where my older participants came from. My research showed that there was a negative relationship between the frequency of alcohol and all measures of religiosity. These measures included organizational frequency, the importance or attending a religious organization, and the importance of the teachings that the religious organization conducts. I also found that having an accountability partner reduced alcohol use in the sample; however, being someone else’s accountability partner did not.

Participants were asked to indicate the strength of various social influences, and my research found that peer influence was unrelated to the frequency of alcohol use. It also found that religious commitment** was related to the frequency of alcohol use (“Yes”= 0.65 and “No”= 1.1). This means that if someone said yes, that religious commitment was important, the less likely they were to consume alcohol underage. If someone said no, that religious commitment wasn’t important, they were more likely to consume alcohol underage. Finally, the Campus Life Agreement was unrelated to the frequency of alcohol use.


Some of the main hindrances I saw in this study were not having a big enough sample size, some participants didn’t answer all of the questions, and other participants were major outliers. Another limitation was that some of the questions didn’t apply to my participants. They were either overage, so underage drinking didn’t apply, they didn’t go to Huntington University; these stemmed from my Facebook participants, or the participants were in Graduate School and did not have as many rules to follow that would lead to risky behavior.

For future research I would pick a larger sample size, such as a state university or multiple universities, and choose a school that was more diverse, so that the results could account for other races or religions. It would also be wise to limit the study to only people who are under 21, so as to not skew the results. I would also maybe look at high school students to see if peers influenced them at that age more or less than college age students.


Chawla, N., Neighbors, C., Lewis, M. A., Lee, C. M., & Larimer, M. E. (2007). Attitudes and Perceived Approval of Drinking as Mediators of the Relationship Between the Importance of Religion and Alcohol Use. Journal Of Studies On Alcohol & Drugs, 68(3), 410-418.

Ellison, C. G., Bradshaw, M., Rote, S., Storch, J., & Trevino, M. (2008). Religion and Alcohol Use Among College Students: Exploring the Role of Domain-Specific Religious Salience. Journal Of Drug Issues, 38(4), 821-846.

Foster, D. W., Young, C. M., Bryan, J., Steers, M. N., Yeung, N. Y., & Prokhorov, A. V. (2014). Interactions among drinking identity, gender and decisional balance in predicting alcohol use and problems among college students. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 143198-205. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.07.024

Grant, A. M., Brown, B., & Moreno, M. A. (2013). The disparity between social drinking motives and social outcomes: A new perspective on college student drinking. College Student Journal, 47(1), 96-101.

Green, K., Nelson, T., & Hartmann, D. (2014). Binge drinking and sports participation in college: Patterns among athletes and former athletes. International Review For The Sociology Of Sport, 49(3/4), 417-434.

Messman-Moore, T. L., & Ward, R. (2014). Emotion Dis-regulation and Coping Drinking Motives in College Women. American Journal Of Health Behavior, 38(4), 553-559.

Rinker, D., & Neighbors, C. (2014). Do different types of social identity moderate the association between perceived descriptive norms and drinking among college students?. Addictive Behaviors, 39(9), 1297-1303.

Rinker, D., & Neighbors, C. (2013). Social influence on temptation: Perceived descriptive norms, temptation and restraint, and problem drinking among college students. Addictive Behaviors, 38(12), 2918-2923.

Wahesh, E., Milroy, J. J., Lewis, T. F., Orsini, M. M., & Wyrick, D. L. (2013). Hazardous Drinking by First-Year College-Athletes: The Differential Roles of Drinking Motives, Alcohol Consequences, and Season Status. Journal Of Alcohol & Drug Education, 57(2), 66-84.



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