Marriage can cause dramatic reduction in alcohol intake even among people with severe drinking problems, according to a new study which suggests that tying the knot could be a key tool in helping combat alcoholism.
Research on alcohol-use disorders consistently shows problem drinking decreases as we age. Also called, “maturing out,” these changes generally begin during young adulthood and are partially caused by the roles we take on as we become adults.
“A key conceptual framework psychologists use to explain maturing out and the ‘marriage effect’ is role-incompatibility theory,” said Matthew Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at University of Missouri in US.
“The theory suggests that if a person’s existing behavioural pattern is conflicting with the demands of a new role, such as marriage, one way to resolve the incompatibility is to change behaviour,” Lee said.
“We hypothesised that this incompatibility may be greater for more severe drinkers, so they’ll need to make greater changes to their drinking to meet the role demands of marriage,” Lee said.
The researchers used previously collected data from a long-term, ongoing study of familial alcohol disorders led by Laurie Chassin, Regents Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University in US.
They examined how the drinking rates of the participants changed as they aged from age 18 to 40, and how this change was affected by whether or not participants got married.
About 50 per cent of the participants included in the study of familial alcoholism were children of alcoholics.
“Confirming our prediction, we found that marriage not only led to reductions in heavy drinking in general, this effect was much stronger for those who were severe problem drinkers before getting married,” Lee said.
“This seems consistent with role incompatibility theory. We believe that greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with the demands of roles like marriage; thus, more severe problem drinkers are likely required to more substantially alter their drinking habits to adapt to the marital role,” Lee said.
The researchers suggest further studies are needed to better understand how these role-driven drinking reductions occur.
They believe this could uncover key insights into the nature of clinically significant forms of problem drinking and inform public policy and clinical efforts to help severe problem drinkers.