Is alcohol and marriage a toxic combination?
That depends on who is doing the drinking and how much, according to a recent US study.
The research suggests that heavy drinking is bad for marriage if one spouse drinks but not both.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) in New York followed 634 couples from the time of their weddings through the first nine years of marriage.
Over the course of the nine-year study, nearly 50 per cent of couples where only one partner drank more heavily wound up divorcing
The divorce rates for other couples was only 30 per cent.
If both spouses were heavy drinkers, the divorce rate was the same as for couples where neither were heavy drinkers.
"Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple's drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce," said Kenneth Leonard, PhD, RIA director and lead author of the study.
"This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce," Dr Leonard said.
"Although some people might think that's a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now."
Heavy drinking was defined as drinking six or more drinks at one time or drinking to intoxication.
The researchers believe heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits.
They cautioned, however, that this does not mean other aspects of family life remain unaffected.
"While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children," Dr Leonard said.
The researchers also found a slightly higher divorce rate in cases when the heavy drinker was the wife, rather than the husband.
Dr Leonard cautions that this difference is based on only a few couples in which the wife was a heavy drinker, but the husband was not, and that the finding was not statistically significant.
He suggests that if this difference is supported by further research, it might be because men view heavy drinking by their wives as going against proper gender roles for women, leading to more conflict.
The study controlled for factors such as marijuana and tobacco use, depression and socioeconomic status, which can also be related to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce.
"Ultimately, we hope our findings will be helpful to marriage therapists and mental health practitioners who can explore whether a difference in drinking habits is causing conflicts between couples seeking help," he said.
- DAILY MAIL