Prayer and drinking

Not a study of alcoholics, but may offer some insight into a mechanism of change:

… they randomized students (all of them religious believers) to two groups. One group was asked to pray every day for their friends and family (they had to pick 5). The other group was asked simply to think positive thoughts daily about their friends and family.

By the end of the study, four weeks later, the ‘good thoughts’ group were drinking nearly twice as much alcohol as the ‘prayer’ group.

So it seems that making nominally religious people actively engage in their beliefs can discourage them from drinking. But why?

Lambert has two theories. First is that prayer may help to improve your relationships with others (that’s something Lambert has shown in an earlier study). And if relationships are stronger, then you’ll have less need to turn to drink to overcome social barriers.

His second theory is that spirituality and alcohol consumption are alternative routes to relieve the ‘burden of self’. This is the idea that, particularly in Western cultures, people are under high pressure to succeed as individuals. By turning to prayer, people may have less need to turn to the bottle.

Personally, I think something else is going on here. By making people pray every day, what you are doing is reminding people constantly of their religion. It’s called priming. And by doing that, you remind them of their cultural expectations – and also remind them that god is watching them.