Marriage Tied to Reduction in Drinking, Even Among Severe Alcoholics

By May Wilkerson 08/04/15

The so-called "marriage effect" was more pronounced with problem drinkers.

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Could you marry your way out of an alcohol problem? Maybe! Getting hitched can lead to a significant decrease in alcohol consumption, even among those who have a serious problem, a study finds.

Researchers say the phenomenon, termed “marriage effect,” can be explained by something called “role incompatibility theory.”

“The theory suggests that if a person's existing behavioral pattern is conflicting with the demands of a new role, such as marriage, one way to resolve the incompatibility is to change behavior,” said Matthew Lee, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri.

For the study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers used previously collected data from a long-term study of familial alcohol disorders led by Professor Laurie Chassin at Arizona State University. In the study, scientists examined how drinking rates changed among participants aged 18 to 40, and how this change was impacted by whether or not they got married. About half of the participants in the study 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,” said Dr. Lee. “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."

Further research is needed to understand exactly how these reductions in drinking occur. Researchers hope their findings can be used to improve addiction treatment, influence public health policy and create specialized interventions targeting young adult problem drinkers.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.