The Role of Stress and Spirituality in Adolescent Substance Use

Katrina Debnam, Adam J. Milam, C. Debra Furr-Holden, Catherine Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Substance use can occur as a result of coping with stress. Within the school context, youth are exposed to stressors related to school achievement and peer-relationships. Protective factors, such as spirituality, may moderate adolescents' engagement in substance use. Objective: The current study investigated the role of spirituality in the association between stress and substance use, in an effort to test the hypothesis that spirituality moderates the association between stress and substance use. Methods: This study used data from youth in grades 6-8 attending 40 parochial private schools. A total of 5,217 students participated in the web-based survey administered in Spring 2013. Multilevel structural equation models were used to examine the association between stress, spirituality, and substance use, while accounting for the nested nature of the data (i.e., students within schools). Results: Higher stress was significantly associated with increased alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among youth (b =.306, p <.001). In addition, lower spiritual beliefs were associated with greater substance use (b =.349, p <.001). Spiritual beliefs did not moderate the relationship between stress and substance use. Conclusions/Importance: Implications for increasing students' adaptive coping when confronted with school-related stressors and the role of school climate are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-741
Number of pages9
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 11 2016


  • adolescents
  • Alcohol
  • drugs
  • spirituality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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