Large group influence for decreased drug use: Findings from two contemporary religious sects

Marc Galanter, Peter Buckley, Alexander Deutsch, Richard Rabkin, Judith Rabkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This paper reports on studies designed to clarify the role of large cohesive groups in effecting diminished drug use among their members. Subjects were drawn from two contemporary religious sects and data were obtained by administering self-report questionnaires under controlled conditions, in cooperation with the sects' leadership. Data which bear directly on changes in drug use are reported here. Members of the Divine Light Mission (DLM), many of whom had been involved in the "counterculture" of the early 1970s, reported incidence of drug use prior to joining which was much above that of a nonmember comparison group. Reported levels were considerably lower after joining, and the decline was maintained over an average membership of 2 years. Unification Church (UC) members showed a similar pattern but their drug use began at a somewhat lower level and declined further still; this reflects a stricter stance toward illicit intoxicants in the UC, and relatively less openness to transcendental altered consciousness, which is an integral part of DLM meditation. Data from persons registered for UC recruitment workshops corroborated retrospective reports of the long-standing members. Changes in the consumption of tranquilizers were also considered. Data on caffeine consumption reflected less strict commitment to controls over this agent. The decline in drug use was considered in relation to feelings of social cohesiveness toward fellow group members, which was a significant predictor of change in drug use in multiple regression analysis. The findings are examined in relation to the interplay between behavioral norms in a close-knit subculture and the role of its beliefs and values in determining levels of drug use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-304
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1980

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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