Study: Why Are Heavy Drinkers Less Likely to Divorce?

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.

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. If both spouses were heavy drinkers, however? 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, via a university press statement.

To explain why heavy drinking spouses were likely to stay together, Leonard and his team speculate that heavy drinking spouses “may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits.” In other, heavy drinking spouses may be more willing to put up with the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption. 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.”

Researchers also found a slightly higher divorce rate in cases when the heavy drinker was the wife, rather than the husband. Leonard 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 couples seeking help,” Leonard said.

In New Jersey, alcohol addiction and excessive drunkenness is a ground for divorce. Did alcohol play a role in your divorce?

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