- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

The nation's clergy are concerned about substance abuse, but only 12.5 percent of them receive any training on how to deal with it in their congregations and few of them preach about it, according to an analysis released yesterday.
"I'm a Catholic and I've been going to Mass 70 years and I've never heard a sermon on this," said Joseph A. Califano, former secretary of health, education, and welfare, who presented the analysis as chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA).
Of those who have some training on the topic, Mr. Califano said, Orthodox Christian clergy scored the highest at 27 percent. Catholics came next at 17.9 percent, followed by Protestants at 13.1 percent and Jews at 2.3 percent.
The study, titled "So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality," polled 1,200 clergy, one quarter of whom responded, along with 230 presidents of Christian seminaries and rabbinical schools, half of whom responded. Research was conducted over a two-year period.
Religious faith has a proven track record on rehabilitating drug users, Mr. Califano said, citing research showing that nonreligious adults are six times likelier to smoke pot and four times likelier to use illicit drugs than their religious counterparts.
"If ever the sum were greater than the parts, it is in combining the power of God, religion and spirituality with the power of science and professional medicine to prevent and treat substance abuse and addiction," he said.
Not only do clergy lack training on how to deal with drug abuse, but the professionals in the field have little knowledge of the effect of spirituality and religion, Mr. Califano said. Although 95 percent of all Americans believe in God, only 40 to 45 percent of all health care professionals do and 43 percent of psychiatrists polled by CASA said they would not recommend their patients consult clergy.
Mr. Califano called this a "health care provider disconnect." CASA recommends that medical professionals be trained to recognize the relevance of spirituality and religion to the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. They should also make use of various religious resources in their community to further help their patients.
CASA recommends that clergy preach regularly about substance abuse and addiction, specifically the areas of prevention and recovery. Because many people turn to their religious leaders for counsel regarding these issues, clergy should recognize specific problems and know how to respond, the study said.
The study also found that, compared with adults who consider religious beliefs important, those who don't value faith are more than three times more likely to binge drink. Adults who never attend religious services are almost seven times more likely to binge drink and nearly eight times likelier to use marijuana than those who attend at least weekly.
A similar trend is evident among teen-agers. Contrasted with their religious peers, teens who don't consider religion important are almost three times more likely to binge drink and smoke, and nearly four times likelier to smoke marijuana, the report said. Teens who never attend religious meetings are more than three times more likely to use marijuana and binge drink than those who attend weekly religious services.
"For many individuals working to shake the shackles of addiction and maintain sobriety, sound advice might well be: Work at it as though everything depended on you and pray as though everything depended on God," Mr. Califano said.


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