November 22, 2013
Heavy Drinking Leads To Higher Divorce Rate, Unless Both Partners Do It
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineDifferences in a couple’s drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, is what leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce, according to a recent study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).
The researchers followed 634 couples through the first nine years of marriage, and found that couples in which only one spouse was a heavy drinker had much higher rates of divorce than other couples.
By contrast, couples in which both spouses drank heavily had the same divorce rates as couples in which both spouses weren’t heavy drinkers, suggesting it’s the differences in drinking styles that contribute to marital strife.
Over the course of the nine-year study, nearly half the couples in which only one partner was a heavy drinker wound up divorcing, while the divorce rate for other couples was only 30 percent. For the purposes of the study, heavy drinking was defined as consuming six or more drinks at one time or drinking to intoxication. The study also controlled for factors such as marijuana and tobacco use, depression and socioeconomic status, which can also be related to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce.
“This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce,” said Kenneth Leonard, PhD, RIA director and lead author of the study.
“Although some people might think that’s a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now,” Leonard said in an interview with UB News Center.
The surprising outcome was that the divorce rate for two heavy drinkers was no worse than for two non-heavy drinkers, Leonard said.
“Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits.”
However, this doesn’t 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 divorce rate in cases when the heavy drinker was the wife, rather than the husband. But Leonard cautioned 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.
If this difference is supported by further research, one possible explanation could be that men view heavy drinking by their wives as going against proper gender roles for women, leading to more conflict, he said.
“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.
The study will appear in the December issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. The study’s co-authors were Gregory Homish, PhD, and Philip Smith, PhD, of UB’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.