Genes may explain why churchgoers drink, smoke less: report

Sun Nov 1, 2009 4:14pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Churchgoers drink and smoke less than adults who spend their Sundays elsewhere but a U.S. study had found it may not be church attendance itself that explains this -- it could be their genes.

The study of nearly 1,800 adult male twins found in adolescence, the relationship between church attendance and lower rates of drinking and smoking appeared largely due to "shared" environment, the factors influencing both members of a twin pair.

That is, teenagers who attended church regularly were more likely to want to follow their parents' wishes and conform to community expectations.

By adulthood, however, those environmental influences had faded, the researchers found. Instead, genes seemed to account for the relationship between church-going and lesser alcohol and nicotine use.

In this case, genes may enter the picture via their influence over a person's natural temperament, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Many adults who continue to regularly go to church, they speculated, may also be the type who would limit their drinking and avoid smoking.

"Church attendance is one of the strongest correlates of substance abuse," researcher Kenneth Kendler, of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, told Reuters Health.

"Understanding the underlying nature of this association is important because of what it tells us about the causes of substance use."

The study included 469 identical twin pairs and 287 pairs of fraternal twins, all of whom were interviewed twice over six years. The men were asked about their current church attendance and smoking and drinking habits, as well as their habits during adolescence.   Continued...

<p>A devotee prays during a mass held at the Shna Ndou church near the city of Lac, some 50 km (31 miles) from Tirana, October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Arben Celi</p>