Drinking alcohol is not uncommon for married couples. While some couples drink regularly, others abstain from drinking any alcohol at all. Alcohol use can impact marital satisfaction and divorce rates. According to a study by researchers at the University of Buffalo, when one partner drinks heavily and the other partner does not, there is a higher rate of divorce.
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Alcohol Use Among Married Couples
According to the study, about half of all couples drink alcohol regularly, defined as at least once per month. This is similar to the general statistics on alcohol consumption, where a 2015 survey found 56% of adults surveyed reported drinking in the past month.
About a quarter do not drink regularly. While about half of all couples drink regularly, only about 4% of couples have both partners who drink heavily, defined as 14 or more drinks per week for men and 10 drinks or more for women.
About 5% of couples reported a heavy drinking wife and a husband who did not drink heavily, compared to 12% of couples with a heavy drinking husband and a wife who does not drink heavily.
Alcohol Use and Divorce
Heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are contributing factors in divorce. Especially when one spouse is a heavy drinker and the other is not, a couple is more likely to report lower marital satisfaction. Alcohol use can also be a factor in domestic violence.
Substance abuse, including alcohol use, is among the most common reasons for seeking a divorce. This can include long-term issues with alcohol or citing a “final straw” incident as the reason the petitioning spouse moved out or filed for divorce. For example, a drunk driving arrest or domestic violence while drunk may be the event that pushes one spouse to file for a divorce.
While alcohol use can be a contributing factor in divorce, divorce may also be a factor in increased alcohol consumption. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found divorced individuals drink more and are more likely to binge drink than married people. Divorced individuals may also be more likely to have alcohol use disorders.
Differences in Drinking Habits
A significant factor in divorce depends on whether the couple has similar or different drinking habits. Couples, where both spouses are heavy drinkers, are less likely to divorce than couples where only one spouse drinks heavily. Couples where both spouses have an alcohol use disorder also report more positive interactions and higher marital satisfaction than couples where only one spouse is an alcoholic.
Over a period of nine years, surveyed couples had a 50% chance of getting a divorce when only one spouse was a heavy drinker compared to a 30% chance of getting a divorce when the couple had similar drinking habits. The lower rate of divorce was similar for couples where both spouses were heavy drinkers as for couples where neither spouse was a heavy drinker.