Youngsters who regularly attend religious services and describe themselves as spiritual are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, indulge in narcissism and avoid risky sexual behaviour, a study indicates.
"The findings suggest that young people who connect to a 'higher power' may feel a greater sense of purpose and are less likely to be bothered by feelings of not fitting in," explained Byron Johnson, co-director of the Texas-based Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
For the study, Johnson and other researchers from the Ohio-based University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine studied 195 juvenile offenders referred by a court, mental health professional or physician to a two-month residential treatment programme.
Researchers used four measures: alcohol or drug use; craving for alcohol or drugs; pro-social behaviour (service to others); and self-centred or narcissistic behaviour.
Forty percent of youths who entered treatments as agnostic or atheist identified themselves as spiritual or religious at discharge, which correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs.
"Daily spiritual experiences such as prayer or worship were also associated with a greater likelihood of sexual abstinence, increased pro-social behaviour and reduced narcissistic behaviour," researchers wrote.
"Among possible reasons as to why adolescents may not opt to experiment with drugs are religious instruction, support from congregations or a conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates their religious beliefs," Johnson emphasised.
The paper appeared in the journal Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.