Marriages at risk when one spouse drinks heavily
A recent study finds that if heavy drinking is happening among couples, there’s a better chance for the marriage to last if either both spouses drink or neither spouse drinks. On the contrary, the divorce rate is far higher among couples when only one spouse is a heavy drinker.
Study leaders from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) tracked more than 600 couples for the first nine years of their marriage.
Almost 50 percent of couples with one heavy drinking partner ended up divorced, while the divorce rates for other couples was just 30 percent.
“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 study leader Kenneth Leonard, PhD, in a news release.
Researchers defined “heavy drinking” as indulging in six or more drinks at one sitting or drinking to intoxication.
Study leaders suspect that partners have more patience for the shortcomings of their spouses when they are both in the same boat.
“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 findings also showed that the divorce rates were slightly higher when the wife was the heavy drinker and the husband was not. Researchers think it’s possible that non-drinking husbands view their wives “as going against proper gender roles for women, leading to more conflict.” The study is published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Researchers anticipate their results may be useful for professionals dealing with these issues.
“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 couples seeking help,” Leonard said.
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