Religion’s influence on alcohol and drug use

A study of how religion and religiosity influence the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in non-western migrants, and how immigration stresses and social connections impact substance use outcomes in migrants.


With previous studies demonstrating the crucial role of religious beliefs in ethno-minority health outcomes and substance use practices, the aim of this PhD project is to understand the role of religion, as a potential protective or detrimental coping tool, on substance use among non-western migrants in Denmark. PhD student Priya Ranganath will incorporate immigrants’ stress of living and learning to cope with life in a new country, which has been associated with significant health consequences. Understanding this religion-health connect, mainly through the lens of the migrants’ social networks and supports, helps identify specific trends of substance use in various ethno-religious groups. These results will provide policy content for developing prevention, support and treatment programs that are culturally-sensitive, address religious norms as well as migration-related stresses.


Ethnicity and religion are deeply connected - churches, temples, mosques help newly arrived migrants establish their ethnic identity and community, with religiosity shown to have a strong beneficial effect on physical and mental health. Acculturation, the process by which immigrants adopt the views, attitudes, and ways of the host nation while attempting to also retain their own heritage, is said to be a significant predictor of various risky health-behaviours, including problematic use of drugs and alcohol. The social connections that migrants form in their new home, especially those within their religious community, might thus be used to cope with immigration stresses while maintaining a manageable level of substance use behaviour. Studies that incorporate a selection of these core concepts have been conducted in the United States but very few that have looked into the experiences of migrants in Europe.

The study

The groundwork of the study will be interviews with leaders across different religious organisations in Copenhagen to ascertain the challenges and needs of their attendees. Based on this information and prior research Priya Ranganath will incorporate non-western migrants’ attendance, salience and affiliation to their religion and religious community in a quantitative survey. She will put particular emphasis on the respondents’ consumption of alcohol and other drugs. Furthermore Priya Ranganath will collect information on any discrimination experiences as well as participants’ connections with family and peers, both within and outside their place of worship. The participants in the survey will be selected in order to represent different religious and ethnic backgrounds, generational status, local language proficiency and other socio-demographic features.   

The project runs from 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2022.


Aarhus BSS Graduate School, Aarhus University.