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Alcohol consumption less likely to be associated with divorce if both partners have similar habits

(RxWiki News) It’s no secret that compatibility is an important part of any successful marriage. Is compatibility also important when it comes to drinking? Spouses who share similar drinking habits may get along better.

A recent study followed nearly 20,000 married couples for 15 years to see if drinking habits had anything to do with divorce rates.

Researchers found heavy drinking in one spouse but not the other put marriages in the highest risk category for divorce - even more so if the wife was the heavy drinker.

Couples in which both spouses were light drinkers or didn’t drink at all were least likely to get divorced.

"Seek help if your partner abuses alcohol."

Fartein A. Torvik, PhD, researcher in the Division of Mental Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway, led an investigation into what effects alcohol can have on a marriage.

For this study, 19,977 married couples were recruited from a county in Norway to participate in a survey between 1984 and 1986. Both partners in each couple provided information on his or her alcohol use and mental stress. Researchers followed up with each couple’s marital status around 15 years later, and then calculated each partner’s alcohol use in relation to the risk of divorce.

By the year 2000, nearly 8 percent of the couples had divorced. If the man was a heavy drinker, the risk of divorce was 1.5 times higher than if he was a light drinker. If the woman was a heavy drinker, the risk of divorce was 3 times higher than if she was a light drinker.

Couples where both partners did not drink or were both light drinkers had the lowest risk for divorce. Couples where both partners were heavy drinkers had a 1.6 times higher risk for divorce than couples with two light drinkers.

The authors concluded that while heavy drinking was a risk factor for divorce, both partners sharing the same drinking habit did lower the risk of divorce overall.

“The interesting thing about this study is that it shows that both the level and the similarity in alcohol use is important for the relationship. One might think that relationship problems increase when both drink a lot, and that the risk of divorce would therefore be highest in that group. However, it appears to be protective if both partners drink about the same amount, probably because it makes them more compatible together,” said Dr. Torvik.

This study was published in February in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The Research Council of Norway supported the funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2013