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the point of view is AGNOSTIC

SUBSTANCE USE & MISUSE , VOL. , NO. , –./..


Racial Discrimination and Alcohol Use: The Moderating Role of Religious Orientation

Stacy C. Parenteaua, Kristen Watersa , b, Brittany Coxb, Tarsha Pattersonc, and Richard Carrd

a Department of Psychology, Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, USA; b Department of Psychology, South University–Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, USA; c Life Enhancement Services, Jackson, Mississippi, USA; d Department of History, Languages, and Social Sciences, Pensacola State College, Pensacola, Florida, USA

KEYWORDS Discrimination; religious orientation; alcohol use

ABSTRACT Background: An outgrowth of research has established a relationship between racial discrimination and alcohol use, as well as factors that moderate this association. Objectives: The main objective of this study was to determine if religious orientation moderates the relationship between per- ceived racial discrimination and alcohol use. Methods: This study utilized a cross-sectional data col- lection strategy to examine the relationship among discrimination, religious orientation, and alco- hol use among undergraduate students (N = 349) at a midsize southeastern university. Data was collected in 2014. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the General Ethnic Discrim- ination Scale, the Extrinsic/Intrinsic Religious Orientation Scale-Revised and the Drinking and Drug Habits Questionnaire. Results: Analyses using hierarchical linear regression indicate a significant inter- action effect (lifetime discrimination × extrinsic religious orientation) on problem drinking. Additional moderation analyses reveal a significant interaction effect between lifetime discrimination and the extrinsic-personal religious orientation on problem drinking. Conclusions: Results suggest that an extrinsic religious orientation, and particularly, an extrinsic-personal religious orientation, moderates the relationship between lifetime discrimination and problem drinking, suggesting that turning to religion for comfort and protection, rather than for the superficial purpose of seeing/making friends at church, may buffer against the deleterious effects of discrimination—specifically, engaging in prob- lem drinking to cope with the stress of discrimination. Limitations, directions for future research, and clinical implications are discussed.


The college years comprise a significant interval of what Arnett (2000) termed “emerging adulthood,” a develop- mental intermission that bridges adolescence and young adulthood. Individuals in emerging adulthood use sub- stances at higher rates than those in adolescence or young adulthood (Bachman, Johnston, O’Malley, & Schulen- berg, 1996), possibly due to the fact that emerging adult- hood is marked by less constraining rules and obligations, including marriage and children (Arnett, 2000). Further- more, epidemiological surveys suggest that heavy drink- ing is more prevalent among college students than their peers not in college (O’Malley, 2002). A vast amount of research has been devoted to examining the relationship between perceived racial discrimination and both physi- cal and mental health outcomes, including substance use (for review, see Pascoe & Richman, 2009; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). It is only recently that college stu- dents and individuals in emerging adulthood received

CONTACT Stacy C. Parenteau Auburn University at Montgomery, Department of Psychology, I Goodwyn Hall, Montgomery, AL , USA. Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at

any significant empirical attention regarding discrimi- nation and problem drinking (Hatzenbuehler, Corbin, & Fromme, 2011; Hurd, Varner, Caldwell & Zimmer- man, 2014). Moreover, studies have begun to examine the protective effects of religious factors in the relation- ship between discrimination and substance use (Horton & Loukas, 2013). This study will contribute to the litera- ture by examining the association between discrimination and alcohol use in a college sample, and will determine if religious orientation moderates this relationship.

Discrimination and alcohol use

Various studies have established a positive relationship between discrimination and alcohol use, measured by a variety of criteria, including number of drinks per day over the past month (Borrell et al., 2010), history of alcohol use/dependence disorders (Chae et al., 2008), and problem drinking patterns (Martin, Tuch, & Roman,

©  Taylor & Francis Group, LLC




2003). The present study will focus on problem drinking as an indice of alcohol use.

While African Americans have traditionally received the most attention in the empirical domain of discrimi- nation and its attendant psychological effects, this empir- ical scope has expanded to also examine the association between discrimination and negative outcomes in other racial minorities. In regard to substance use, numerous studies have established a relationship between discrim- ination and alcohol use among African Americans (Bor- rell et al., 2010; Hunte & Barry, 2012; Martin et al., 2003), as well as Asian Americans (Chae et al., 2008; Yoo et al., 2010), and Hispanics (Borrell et al., 2010).

Discrimination and religion

A growing body of research has also examined the rela- tionship among discrimination, religious involvement, and health (Bierman, 2006; Ellison, Musick & Hender- son, 2008). The relationship among these variables can be elucidated within the context of the stress, appraisal, and coping theoretical paradigm formulated by Lazarus and Folkman (1984). According to this pivotal theory, upon being confronted with a situation, an individual engages in a two-step cognitive process: primary appraisal and secondary appraisal. During primary appraisal, the indi- vidual evaluates the meaning of the situation and deter- mines whether it is positive, neutral, or stressful. A stress- ful appraisal involves the individual perceiving the event as harmful, threatening, or challenging. Harm involves the perception that damage has already occurred, while threat appraisals involve the anticipation of harm or loss. Challenge appraisals involve a focus on mastery and per- sonal growth. If the situation is perceived as stressful, the individual then engages in secondary appraisal, during which he/she considers resources and options available to cope with the stressor.

This transactional model of stress conceptualized by Lazarus & Folkman (1984) can serve as a theoretical foun- dation from which to explore the relationship among dis- crimination, religiosity, and problem drinking. In this regard, discrimination has been conceptualized as a stres- sor (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Con- trada et al., 2001; Landrine, Klonoff, Corral, Fernandez, & Roesch, 2006), and mobilizing religious resources may be a potent force in coping with stress (Pargament, 2007). According to Lazarus & Folkman (1984), coping involves “constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the per- son” (p. 141).

It has been postulated that individuals use substances to cope with stress (Wills & Shiffman, 1985), but research suggests religious involvement may buffer the negative

impact of discrimination. In this regard, African Ameri- cans who feel emotionally close to other church members and interact more frequently with them are more likely to receive support from those church members (Tay- lor, Lincoln, & Chatters, 2005). Indeed, attending church appears to provide immunity against the cancerous effects of discrimination. Bierman (2006), for example, found that church attendance buffered against negative affect for African Americans experiencing discrimination. Fur- thermore, church-based support, as assessed by the Reli- gious Social Support Questionnaire (Fiala, Bjorck, & Gorsuch, 2002), can provide protection against depres- sion among rural African-American mothers (Odom & Vernon-Feagans, 2010).

The present study

This study will extend prior literature examining discrim- ination, religiosity, and substance use by looking beyond church attendance to examine the effect of religious ori- entation, a motivational construct, on the relationship between discrimination and alcohol use. To our knowl- edge, no studies have examined intrinsic/extrinsic reli- gious orientation as a potential buffer against the dele- terious effects of discrimination. While those with a strong intrinsic religious orientation are deeply commit- ted to their religious tenets, embrace religion as a guid- ing force in their life, and engage in religious practices, such as reading religious literature, for personal growth and understanding, those with an extrinsic religious ori- entation use religion to fulfill ulterior interests, such as the need for comfort or social support (Allport & Ross, 1967; Gorsuch, 1997). Kirkpatrick (1989) further dis- sected extrinsic religious orientation into two subtypes: extrinsic-social, which reflects a social-centric religious motivation (e.g. going to church to make or see friends), and extrinsic-personal, which involves efforts focused on gaining comfort or peace through religion (e.g. gaining peace through prayer).

Although intrinsic religious orientation has generally been associated with more positive outcomes (Donahue, 1985; Masters & Bergin, 1992), it also is possible that extrinsic religious orientation may offer some protection against the stress of discrimination, as individuals who are more extrinsically motivated may attend church with the primary purpose of seeing friends, which may help them cope with discrimination. In this regard, extrinsic-social religious motivation, but not intrinsic religious motiva- tion, was significantly negatively associated with PTSD symptomatology and depression in veterans in residential treatment (Tran et al., 2012).

This study sought to determine whether: (1) dis- crimination is associated with alcohol use, as mea- sured by problem drinking; and (2) religious orientation




moderates the relationship between discrimination and problem drinking. In other words, when faced with racial discrimination, does it benefit individuals to embrace religion for its inherent value, or is it more advantageous to reach out to religion for its benefits, be it seeing friends at church or praying for com- fort? Or do both types of religious orientations play a role in helping individuals cope with discrimination? It was expected that (1) discrimination would be sig- nificantly positively associated with problem drinking; and (2) religious orientation would buffer the effects of discrimination on problem drinking. It was expected that both intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientation would moderate the discrimination-problem drinking association.



Participants (N = 349) were recruited from Introductory Psychology courses at a midsize southeastern university. As can be seen in Table 1, the majority of the sample was female and Protestant. Forty-eight percent of the sam- ple was white and 51% non-white. The non-white sub- sample was 83% African-American, 9% Asian, 2% Amer- ican Indian/Alaskan Native, 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 5% biracial. Although many studies examin- ing the effects of discrimination have focused strictly on whites and blacks, this study broadened the race demo- graphic category to include a diverse group of racial minorities.


Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was attained prior to data collection. The students signed up for the study through an online site. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. After signing the consent form, participants completed a series of counterbalanced self-report questionnaires.


Demographic questionnaire Participants provided basic demographic information, including age, sex, race, academic class, family income, marital status, and religious affiliation.

General Ethnic Discrimination Scale (GEDS; Landrine et al., ) Lifetime discrimination was assessed with this 18-item questionnaire, which measures participants’ experiences

Table . Participant demographics.


Gender Males . Females .

Race Caucasian  African-American  Asian  American Indian/Alaskan Native . Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander . Biracial . Not Revealed .

Academic Class Freshman  Sophomore  Junior  Senior  Not Revealed 

Marital Status Single  Married  Divorced 

Family Income $–,  $,–,  $,–,  $,–,  $,–,  >$,  Not Revealed 

Religious Affiliation Catholic  Protestant∗  Other Christian  Muslim . Hindu . Atheist/Agnostic  Other Faith Tradition  Not Revealed .

∗Includes participants who identified as “Protestant,” as well as Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Evangelical, and Episcopal.

with unfair treatment from specific individuals (e.g. teachers/professors, neighbors, strangers), as well as spe- cific situations involving unfair treatment (e.g. people misunderstanding motives/intentions because of race). The scale assesses lifetime discrimination on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from “never” (1) to “almost all the time” (6). The final question on the scale requires partic- ipants to gauge how different their entire lives would be in the absence of unfair/racist treatment, using a 6-point Likert scale ranging from “the same as it is now” (1) to “totally different” (6). The GEDS has high internal con- sistency, with a Cronbach’s alpha of .94 for the Lifetime Discrimination scale.

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Religious Orientation Scale-Revised (I/E Scale-Revised; Gorsuch & McPherson, ) This revised scale consists of 8 items assessing intrinsic religiosity (e.g. “I enjoy reading about my religion.”) and 6 items assessing extrinsic religiosity (e.g. “What religion offers me most is comfort in times of trouble and sor- row.”), on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly agree to 5 =




Table . Descriptive statistics for discrimination, religious orienta- tion, and problem drinking.

Variable M (Range) SD Cronbach’s alpha

Lifetime discrimination . (–) . . Intrinsic religious orientation . (–) . . Extrinsic religious orientation . (–) . .

Extrinsic-personal . (–) . . Extrinsic-social . (–) . .

Problem drinking . (–) . .

strongly disagree). The extrinsic scale is subcategorized into the extrinsic-social (e.g. “I go to church because it helps me make friends.”), and the extrinsic-personal (e.g. “I pray mainly to gain relief and protection.”) scales. Items were reverse coded, with higher scores indicating higher levels of intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Three questions were reverse coded a second time, per scale instructions. This scale has demonstrated solid reliability for the intrinsic scale (.83) and fair reliability for the extrinsic scale (.65), as well as fair reliability for the extrinsic- personal (.57) and extrinsic-social (.58) subscales (Gorsuch & McPherson, 1989).

Drinking and Drug Habits Questionnaire (DDHQ; Collins, Parks, & Marlatt, ; Turchik & Garske, ) The DDHQ is an inventory modified by Turchik & Garske (2009) from a general information questionnaire origi- nally developed by Collins et al. (1985). The inventory assesses weekly drinking, problem drinking, and drug use. The present study focused on the second subscale of the inventory, which assesses problem drinking with nine questions consisting of “yes”/”no” responses (e.g. arrest for DWI, hangover, blackout, feeling sick, property dam- age), with a possible score range of 0–9. The problem drinking subscale has demonstrated acceptable internal consistency, with an alpha coefficient of .70. (Turchik & Garske, 2009). See Table 2 for descriptive statistics for all measures for the present study.


Preliminary analyses

Bivariate correlational analyses were performed to ana- lyze first-order associations among discrimination, reli- gious orientation, and problem drinking. All correlations presented in Table 3 represent Pearson coefficients.

As evident in Table 3, lifetime discrimination was pos- itively associated with problem drinking. Extrinsic reli- gious orientation was negatively associated with problem drinking. Finally, lifetime discrimination was positively associated with extrinsic religious orientation. Associa- tions among lifetime discrimination, religious orientation

Table . Bivariate correlations among discrimination, religious ori- entation, and problem drinking.

. . . .

. Lifetime discrimination — . .∗∗ .∗ . IRO .∗∗ − . . ERO − .∗∗ . Problem drinking —

∗∗ p< . ∗ p< . Note: ERO = Extrinsic religious orientation; IRO = Intrinsic religious orientation

and problem drinking were further explored with regres- sion analyses.

Associations among demographic variables and prob- lem drinking were examined using bivariate correla- tional analyses. Demographic variables with more than one category were converted into dichotomous variables prior to analysis. Marital status was recoded into single and divorced (“0”)/married (“1”); race was recoded into white (“0”)/non-white (“1”); and religious affiliation was recoded into Christian (“0”)/non-Christian (“1”). Fam- ily income was assessed as a categorical variable (0 = $20,000/year through 5 = >$100,000); this variable was not recoded into a dichotomous variable, since higher categorical values indicate higher income brackets. Aca- demic class was also assessed as a categorical variable, with higher values indicating higher class (0 = freshman; 1 = sophomore; 2 = junior; 3 = senior). Age was the only demographic variable associated with problem drinking (r = .18, p < .01, determined with Spearman rho), and thus, was controlled for in regression analyses. Further- more, because racial discrimination was the prime focus of the study, race also was included as a covariate.

Moderation analyses

Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to deter- mine if religious orientation moderated the relationship between lifetime discrimination and problem drinking. Prior to analyses, lifetime discrimination and the religious orientation predictor variables were mean centered, con- sistent with recommendations by Aiken & West (1991), and the 2-way interaction terms created from these cen- tered variables.

As can be seen in Table 4, age (also centered) and race were entered in the first block, followed by lifetime dis- crimination, extrinsic religious orientation and intrinsic religious orientation in the second block, and the two 2- way interaction terms (lifetime discrimination x extrin- sic religious orientation; lifetime discrimination x intrin- sic religious orientation) in the third block.

Lifetime discrimination (β = .21, p < .01) and extrin- sic religious orientation (β = −.16, p < .01) were both significantly associated with problem drinking (see




Table . Moderation of lifetime discrimination and problem drink- ing by religious orientation.

Outcome variable: Problem Drinking β t R �R

Block  Age . .∗ . Race ( = white;  = non-white) − . − .

Block  Lifetime Discrimination . .∗∗ . . ERO − . − .∗∗ IRO − . − .

Block  LD x ERO − . − .† . . LD x IRO . .

∗∗p< . († p = .) ∗ p< . Note: LD = Lifetime discrimination; ERO = Extrinsic religious orientation; IRO

= Intrinsic religious orientation N = 

Table 4). The interaction between lifetime discrimina- tion and extrinsic religious orientation also was signif- icantly associated with problem drinking (β = −.16, p = .01). ModGraph-I (Jose, 2013) was used to visually illustrate this interaction (see Figure 1). Probing this sig- nificant interaction effect further, it was found that life- time discrimination was positively associated with prob- lem drinking at low (t = 3.92, p < .001) and medium (t = 3.67, p < .001), but not high, levels of extrinsic reli- gious orientation (t = 1.14, p > .05). As can be seen in Table 4, the interaction effect between lifetime discrimi- nation and intrinsic religious orientation was not signifi- cant, and thus, was not further analyzed.

Another set of hierarchical regression analyses was performed to examine the potential moderating effects of the two subtypes of extrinsic religious orientation. Extrinsic-personal religious orientation and extrinsic- social religious orientation variables were mean centered, and interaction terms created (lifetime discrimination x extrinsic-personal; lifetime discrimination x extrinsic- social). As can be seen in Table 5, lifetime discrimination (β = .20, p < .01) and extrinsic-social religious orienta- tion (β = −.14, p < .05) were significantly associated with

Figure . Moderation of lifetime discrimination and problem drink- ing by extrinsic religious orientation (ERO).

Table . Moderation of lifetime discrimination and problem drink- ing by extrinsic religious orientation subtypes.

Outcome variable: Problem Drinking β t R �R

Block  Age . .∗ . Race ( = white;  = non-white) − . − .

Block  Lifetime Discrimination . .∗∗ . . Extrinsic-personal − . − . Extrinsic-social − . − .∗

Block  LD x E-P − . − .∗∗ . . LD x E-S − . − .

∗∗p< . ∗ p< . Note: LD = Lifetime discrimination; E-P = Extrinsic-personal religious orienta-

tion; E-S = Extrinsic-social religious orientation N = 

problem drinking. The interaction between lifetime dis- crimination and extrinsic-personal religious orientation also was significantly associated with problem drinking (β = −.18, p < .01). ModGraph-I (Jose, 2013) was again used to illustrate this interaction (see Figure 2). Probing this significant interaction effect further, it was found that life- time discrimination was positively associated with prob- lem drinking at low (t = 4.51, p < .001) and medium (t = 3.86, p < .001), but not high, levels of extrinsic-personal religious orientation (t = .762, p > .05). As can be seen in Table 5, the interaction between lifetime discrimination and extrinsic-social religious orientation was not signifi- cant, and hence, was not further analyzed.

No 3-way interactions (race × lifetime discrimination × extrinsic religious orientation; race × lifetime discrim- ination × extrinsic-personal religious orientation; race × lifetime discrimination × extrinsic-social religious ori- entation; race × lifetime discrimination × intrinsic reli- gious orientation) were significant (p > .05) for prob- lem drinking. The sample was split in post-hoc analyses, however, to determine if religious orientation moderated the relationship between discrimination and alcohol use for both whites and non-whites. A significant interaction

Figure . Moderation of lifetime discrimination and problem drinking by extrinsic-personal religious orientation (E-P).




effect between lifetime discrimination and extrinsic reli- gious orientation was found for non-whites (β = −.24, < .05), but not for whites (β = −.002, p > .05). Prob- ing this interaction effect further, it was found that life- time discrimination was positively associated with prob- lem drinking at low (t = 3.37, p < .001) and medium (t = 3.27, p < .01), but not high, levels of extrinsic reli- gious orientation for non-whites (t = .956, p > .05). Fur- thermore, a significant interaction effect between lifetime discrimination and extrinsic-personal subtype emerged for non-whites (β = −.28, p < .01), but not for whites (β = .04, p > .05). Probing this interaction effect further, it was found that lifetime discrimination was positively associated with problem drinking at low (t = 4.38, p < .001) and medium (t = 2.88, p < .01), but not high, levels of extrinsic-personal religious orientation for non-whites (t = −.282, p > .05).


The main objectives of this study were to determine if dis- crimination was associated with problem drinking, and if religious orientation moderated this proposed associ- ation. Extrinsic religious orientation and the extrinsic- personal subtype both moderated the significant asso- ciation between lifetime discrimination and problem drinking.

Even though the 3-way interactions between race, dis- crimination, and religious orientation were not signifi- cant, the interaction between lifetime discrimination and both extrinsic religious orientation and extrinsic-personal religious orientation were significant only for non-whites when the sample was split by race in post-hoc analyses. The lack of significant 3-way interactions may be due to power issues. Nevertheless, group differences must be interpreted with caution.

One question that arises from the present study find- ings is why extrinsic, but not intrinsic, religious orienta- tion buffered the noxious effects of discrimination. Grow- ing evidence supports the significant role of church atten- dance (Bierman, 2006) and church-based support (Odom & Vernon-Feagans, 2010) in protecting against negative mental health outcomes for those who experience dis- crimination, particularly African-Americans. While hav- ing a strong extrinsic religious orientation involves the tendency to go to church for the purpose of making or see- ing friends (extrinsic-social), this orientation also repre- sents a more general motivation to use religion for solace and comfort (extrinsic-personal; Kirkpatrick, 1989); for example, praying can be an extrinsically motivated reli- gious behavior if one prays to gain a sense of comfort and relief.

Previous research has established that intrinsic reli- gious orientation relates to positive mental health indices, such as meaning in life and well-being, while extrin- sic religious orientation has traditionally been associated with maladaptive outcomes, including anxiety and lack of responsibility (Donahue, 1985; Masters & Bergin, 1992). Some studies, however, have found benefits of extrinsic motivation. In this regard, Turner-Musa & Wilson (2006), using a fourfold typology classifying individuals accord- ing to their levels of intrinsic and extrinsic religious orien- tation (Allport & Ross, 1967), found that African Amer- ican college students classified as Pro-Religious (high on both intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientation), Intrin- sic R (high on intrinsic religious orientation), and Extrin- sic R (high on extrinsic religious orientation) were more likely to engage in health-promoting behavior than the Non-Religious (low on both intrinsic and extrinsic reli- gious orientation) group. Furthermore, extrinsic-social religious orientation was associated with lower levels of PTSD symptomatology and depression in PTSD veter- ans (Tran et al., 2012). Masters & Knestel (2011), using the same fourfold typology as Turner-Musa & Wilson (2006), found that the Intrinsic and Pro-Religious types smoked significantly less than Extrinsic types, and Non- Religious types consumed more alcohol per day than the other groups. Future research should examine for whom and under what conditions extrinsic religious orientation is associated with positive outcomes.

The major question examined in our study is the potential interactive effect of racial discrimination and religious orientation: Does intrinsic or extrinsic religious orientation, or both, protect individuals confronted with discrimination? In this regard, intrinsic religious orien- tation has been found to buffer the effects of uncon- trollable life stress on depression (Park, Cohen, & Herb, 1990). Only extrinsic religious orientation, however, pro- vided protection against engaging in problem drinking in the face of discrimination in the present study. Why does intrinsic religious orientation not provide the same protection? Church attendance is not the differential fac- tor. Individuals high in either extrinsic or intrinsic reli- gious orientation may attend church; the difference lies in the motivation underlying church attendance. Intrin- sically oriented individuals engage in religious activities for personal growth and understanding and are deeply committed to their religion, while extrinsically oriented individuals may be motivated by their desire to make new friends and gain comfort (Allport & Ross, 1967; Gorsuch, 1997).

It is possible that, when faced with discrimination, individuals high in extrinsic religious orientation may benefit from approaching their religion with the motive of




gaining support and comfort, while the desire to live their life in line with their religious values and to grow in their personal faith may not be beneficial for individuals high in intrinsic religious motivation, at least when confronted with discrimination. Seeking support, comfort and pro- tection through religious activities may offer the best pro- tection against the effects of discrimination, especially for African Americans, who have traditionally found sup- port and a strong sense of cohesiveness at church (Grif- fith, English, & Mayfield, 1980). In this regard, it has been found that church-based support, which includes support gained from a personal relationship with God, from one’s congregation, and from clergy, buffered the effect of dis- crimination on depression for African American mothers (Odom & Vernon-Feagans, 2010).

A key finding from the present study is that it is the personal aspect of the extrinsic orientation, rather than the social motivations, that is tantamount in protecting against negative effects of discrimination. In other words, attending church to gain a sense of comfort and solace, rather than to make friends or see acquaintances, is the beneficial factor for those who experience discrimina- tion. While these two motivations may not be mutually exclusive, it may be the case that, while one may have friends or acquaintances at church, he/she may not nec- essarily be receiving emotional support from such friends or acquaintances.

Limitations and future directions

There are several limitations that must be taken into con- sideration in the present study. First, the sample is nearly uniform in regard to certain demographic characteristics, as the majority of participants were single, female col- lege students, limiting our ability to generalize the cur- rent findings to males. There is evidence that religiosity buffers the effects of factors like stress and depression on substance use only for women (Horton & Loukas, 2013; Stoltzfus & Farkas, 2012); hence, it is possible that reli- giosity may not buffer the negative effects of discrimina- tion for males.

The present study boasts a strength in its strong repre- sentation of non-white participants. Most studies exam- ining the moderating role of religiosity in the associa- tion between discrimination and health outcomes have focused on blacks and whites (Bierman, 2006), or blacks exclusively (Odom & Vernon-Feagans, 2010). While the present study included racial minorities other than blacks, caution must be used in regard to generalizing the present findings to all non-whites, as blacks comprised 42%, and other minorities constituted 9%, of the over- all sample. It should be noted, however, that results were reduced to nonsignificance when non-black minorities

were excluded from analyses, illuminating the importance of examining the impact of racial discrimination and reli- giosity in non-black minority groups in future studies.

Furthermore, the present study relied on subjective reports of both discrimination and alcohol use, both of which may be distorted by a possible inclination to pro- vide socially acceptable responses and/or by memory bias. Williams & Mohammed (2009) underscore the potential liabilities associated with utilizing self-report measures of discrimination and suggest the use of an event history cal- endar (Belli, 1998) to more accurately capture autobio- graphical events. Williams and Mohammed also note the underreporting that plagues reports of alcohol consump- tion, a problem that may be counteracted with the use of detailed questions assessing consumption of specific alcohol beverages, at specific locations, and the quantity and frequency of consumption at each location (Casswell, Huckle, & Pledger, 2002).

Despite such limitations, the present study spawns some intriguing questions. Further research is needed to clarify the unique contribution of extrinsic religious ori- entation as a protective factor against the negative effects of discrimination. In this regard, extrinsic-personal moti- vation appears to play a role in inoculating individuals against the stress of discrimination, while extrinsic-social motivation does not, inferring that approaching religion to gain comfort or solace is more beneficial than is going to church to make or see friends. This implies that individ- uals are finding comfort in aspects of religion other than church-based social ties. Indeed, studies examining social support as a moderator in the discrimination-health rela- tionship have produced mixed results (for review, see Pascoe & Richman, 2009). Two of the questions on the extrinsic-personal subscale involve praying for a sense of peace or comfort. Considering that different types of prayer are associated with different psychological indices (Poloma & Pendleton, 1991; Whittington & Scher, 2010), future studies should identify which types of prayer are most beneficial in coping with discrimination.


The present study findings have important implications. Our findings are not to suggest that individuals should abandon intrinsically-motivated religious behaviors, such as reading religious literature for personal growth and understanding. Rather, the current findings suggest that turning to the church, or religious activities in general, for comfort and protection may significantly benefit indi- viduals experiencing discrimination. Furthermore, just going to church to make friends or see people one knows, as characteristic of those high in extrinsic-social religious orientation, is not sufficient to buffer the negative effects




of discrimination, including problem drinking. The key factor is a sense of comfort and protection, which might not be attained just by seeing people one knows, or even seeing friends, at church. In this regard, churches can provide a greater depth to social interactions by offering support and prayer groups where individuals can discuss their personal experiences and draw support and strength from one another.

Furthermore, university counseling centers could assess students’ approach to religion when working with students with alcohol problems, particularly problem drinking. It is important to focus on perceived dis- crimination in college students, as one study revealed that 29.10% of college participants reported experienc- ing racial/ethnic discrimination (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2011). Drinking may be one mechanism by which col- lege students cope with perceived discrimination; in this regard, epidemiological surveys reveal that heavy drink- ing is more prevalent among college students than their peers not in college (O’Malley, 2002). Given that college students’ approach to religion may be a significant factor in curbing problematic alcohol use for those experiencing discrimination, it is imperative for university counselors to integrate this facet of students’ lives into therapy, as long as such clients are amenable to discussing their religiosity in therapy.


We would like to thank Heather Culpepper, Philip Hughes, Megan Horton, Jessica Chadwick and Ashley Weston for assis- tance with data collection.

Declaration of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the article.


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  • Abstract
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