Alcoholism and Marriage

Heavy consumption of alcohol is tied to many negative consequences, such as injury, risky sexual behaviors and problems with family and social relationships. Alcoholism can also have long-term consequences, with employment or education tracks affected by performance and attendance problems related to alcohol.

Researchers now say that another long-term problem is associated with alcoholism. Dr. Mary Waldron, an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Education in Bloomington and the Midwest Research Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleagues found that alcohol dependence was a predictor of later marriage and earlier separation.

The researchers studied more than 5,000 Australian twins to arrive at their findings, published in the January 18 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The researchers wanted to examine links between alcoholism and the timing and duration of marriage, a topic that has not been fully explored, despite the ample research on the connections between drinking and marital status. Waldron explained that most of the existing research did not follow participants past their 20s.

The study recruited 3,575 female and 1,845 male Australian twins born mainly between 1940 and 1964. The participants were assessed for psychological and physical symptoms of alcohol use and if and when they became dependent on alcohol. All of the participants were between 28 and 92 at the time of final assessment.

The results of the analysis showed that there were moderate delays in marriage shown for both men and women. For those who had married, alcoholism was a strong predictor for early separations, with similar patterns shown among men and women. The researchers found that genetic influences appeared to contribute to the links between alcoholism and marriage duration.

Waldron explained that though the genetic influences appear to play a significant role in alcoholism as a predictor of marriage length, more studies are needed to fully understand the contribution of genetic factors.

However, the study’s results highlight the ripple effect that alcoholism can have. The behaviors that characterize alcoholism do not happen in a bubble and can affect many other people, especially that person’s spouse.
Waldron says that the findings should serve as a warning to young people who drink alcohol, especially those who are in the habit of drinking heavily and may develop a problem with alcohol dependence. Developing a dependence on alcohol may have long-term consequences outside of the consequences usually associated with alcoholism.