Heavy drinking is bad for marriage if one spouse drinks, but not both

November 21, 2013 by Cathy Wilde
Heavy drinking is bad for marriage if one spouse drinks, but not both

Do drinking and marriage mix? That depends on who's doing the drinking—and how much—according to a recent study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

Researchers followed 634 couples from the time of their weddings through the first nine years of marriage and found that couples where only one spouse was a heavy drinker had a much higher divorce rate than other couples.

But if both spouses were heavy drinkers? The divorce rate was the same as for couples where neither were heavy drinkers.

"Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple's drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce," said Kenneth Leonard, PhD, RIA director and lead author of the study.

The study's co-authors were Gregory Homish, PhD, and Philip Smith, PhD, of UB's Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.

Over the course of the nine-year study, nearly 50 percent of couples where only one partner drank more heavily wound up divorcing, while the divorce rates for other couples was only 30 percent. ("Heavy drinking" was defined as drinking six or more drinks at one time or drinking to intoxication.)

"This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that by one partner can lead to divorce," Leonard said. "Although some people might think that's a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now."

The video will load shortly

The surprising outcome was that the divorce rate for two heavy drinkers was no worse than for two non-heavy drinkers. "Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits," Leonard said. But he cautioned that this does not mean other aspects of family life are unimpaired. "While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children."

The researchers also found a slightly higher in cases when the heavy drinker was the wife, rather than the husband. Leonard cautions that this difference is based on only a few couples in which the wife was a heavy drinker, but the husband was not, and that the finding was not statistically significant. He suggests that if this difference is supported by further research, it might be because men view heavy drinking by their wives as going against proper gender roles for women, leading to more conflict.

The study controlled for factors such as marijuana and tobacco use, depression and socioeconomic status, which can also be related to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce.

"Ultimately, we hope our findings will be helpful to marriage therapists and mental health practitioners who can explore whether a difference in drinking habits is causing conflicts between seeking help," Leonard said.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the findings will appear in the December issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Explore further: Both heavy and incompatible drinking can increase the chances of divorce

Related Stories

Both heavy and incompatible drinking can increase the chances of divorce

February 5, 2013
High levels of drinking have repeatedly been shown to predict divorce. The most cited explanation for this is that excessive alcohol use disrupts daily tasks and functioning, and increases spousal conflicts. A study of the ...

Heavy drinking may lead to stroke earlier in life

September 10, 2012
A new study shows that people who have three or more alcoholic drinks per day may be at higher risk for experiencing a stroke almost a decade and a half earlier in life than those who do not drink heavily. The research is ...

Most Australians drinking less but heaviest drinkers boozing more

September 4, 2013
The proportion of Australians drinking 20 or more standard drinks in a single session has grown in the last decade, and the amount the heaviest drinkers are consuming annually is also on the rise, a new study has shown.

Brain activity may predict teens' heavy drinking

August 8, 2012
Heavy drinking is known to affect teenagers' developing brains, but certain patterns of brain activity may also help predict which kids are at risk of becoming problem drinkers, according to a study in the September issue ...

Recommended for you

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

0 comments

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.