Couples who imbibe heavily are more likely to divorce than other couples. And the risk of divorce goes up, as well, for couples in which one drinks and the other doesn't, according to new research based on a very large couples study from Norway.
In fact, the more a person drinks, the more likely divorce is, study lead author Fartein Ask Torvik of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said. The findings were published in the May 2013 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Divorce is more likely, though not by as much, if the couples drink about the same amount of alcohol, compared to couples who don't drink.
More than 19,975 Norwegian couples participated in surveys on alcohol use and mental distress, then risk of divorce was studied over a 15-year period starting between 1984 and 1986. The researchers found that heavy drinking by the men or women increased the risk of divorce, even after adjusting to remove "light drinkers." They found that even when they removed demographic factors and mental distress, heavy alcohol use was bad for marriages.
The likelihood of divorce was especially high when only the woman drank. "The risk of divorce is estimated to be tripled when the husband's level of drinking is low and the wife's drinking is heavy, compared with couples where both drink lightly," said Torvik in a statement about the study.
The Los Angeles Times noted that couples where both partners reported being light drinkers only divorced 5.8 percent of the time. The article pointed out the possible importance of making sure you're aware of a future spouse's use of alcohol before marriage if marital stability matters to you.
"Excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health issue in most Western nations," Norwegian Institute of Public Health director Ellinor F. Major told Livescience.com. Writer Stephanie Pappas noted that "drug and alcohol abuse has been linked to violent, abusive relationships and some preliminary animal studies even suggest that alcohol makes it harder for the brain to bounce back from traumatic experiences."
The research found that couples where both abstained had lower risks of divorce, and that for heavy drinkers, the risk of divorce was higher than for couples who were light drinkers. Quantity matters.
"This study demonstrated that both the level of alcohol use and compatibility in alcohol use are important predictors of marital dissolution," the researchers wrote.
It's not the first study to look at patterns of alcohol consumption and what happens to marriages. In August, researchers from the University of Cincinnati, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University and the University of Texas at Austin found that marriage and divorce influence each other's drinking patterns or decisions not to drink in different ways. The study said long-term marriage appears to curb men's drinking, but is associated with slightly higher levels of alcohol use by women, compared with women who are divorced.
It said men who are married drink less alcohol than single, divorced or widowed men, while married women consumed more drinks than long-term divorced or recently widowed women, possibly because they lived with men who drank.
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