Relationships Can Lower Substance Use in Young People

June 4, 2010 By Randy Dotinga, Health Behavior News Service

A new study of young people in the two years after high school finds that those in romantic relationships are less likely than their peers to report heavy drinking and marijuana use.

Researchers have known that marriage lowers the odds that people will get drunk frequently or smoke pot, said study lead author Charles Fleming, a research scientist at the University of Washington. The new findings, he said, reveal that other kinds of have the same effect.

“I’m not saying that we should set up dating services,” he said. “But it’s something for parents to know and it’s something for other people who are working with young adults of this age to know.”

The study findings appear in the June issue of the .

Fleming and colleagues examined surveys of 909 young people followed from first or second grade in the early 1990s through adolescence and the two years after high school.

More than 80 percent of the participants, from a school district outside Seattle, were white, and 54 percent were male.

The researchers found that those who were not in romantic relationships at ages 19 and 20 smoked less and drank less than other students back when they were in high school. The situation changed when they got older: “They catch up and maybe surpass their peers,” Fleming said.

After adjusting their statistics so they would not be thrown off by factors like employment status, the researchers found the typical person who was not in a relationship was 40 percent more likely to use than a person in a dating relationship but without a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend.

What is going on? One possibility is that when people are in relationships, they are “happier and getting social support from their partner,” Fleming said. “They’re spending less time hanging out with their substance-using friends, spending less time at parties and in bars.”

In the big picture, the findings matter because they provide insight into the influences on people during a time of life “when you see peak rates of alcohol abuse and development of dependency on cigarettes and marijuana,” Fleming said. “You worry about people being disengaged from influences that might curb their risk of drinking and substance abuse.”

Kenneth Leonard, a researcher with the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo, said the findings add a couple new things to existing research. For one, they provide evidence that marriages among young people reduce the risk of substance use just as marriages of older people do.

But he said there is an exception: The study shows that when someone’s spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend is a heavy drinker or marijuana user, that actually raises the odds that the person will smoke and drink.

Overall, the findings show that “intimate partners, even those who are cohabiting or dating, can have an important influence on another’s substance use,” he said.

More information: Fleming C, White HR, Catalano RF. Romantic relationships and substance use in early adulthood: an examination of the influences of relationship type, partner substance use, and relationship quality. J Health Social Behav 51(2), 2010.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

pauljpease
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
I think their hypothesis that people in relationships abuse substances less because they are happier, spend less time at parties, etc. might be a little off base. The final "exception", that people who's partner uses substances are more likely to use as well, is probably closer to the truth. If a certain fraction of people are averse to using substances, then they will tend to influence their partner. Any time a user is in a relationship with a non-user, the user is less likely to use. I think that is probably a major cause of the effect they observed in this study. That, and the fact that people in relationships feel more responsibility, for their partner and for themselves, so they are more likely to reduce risky behavior like substance abuse.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.