How Marriage Could Curb Risky Drinking

Alcohol problems may decrease after marriage, especially for heavy drinkers


Looking to cut back on your alcohol habit? You may want to consider tying the knot.

While "maturing out" of drinking — sometimes known as the "marriage effect" — is a common phenomenon that results in a decrease in alcohol consumption, researchers from the University of Missouri (MU) found that its effects could be especially strong for those who drink to excess.

These drinkers may be benefiting from what is known as the "role-incompatibility theory," according to these researchers.

This theory suggests that when a person’s behavior conflicts with the demands of a new role, such as that of a husband or wife, the most common solution is to change the behavior.

"We hypothesized 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,” said lead study author Matthew Lee, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences at MU, in a press release.

Dr. Lee and team looked at 844 men and women ages 18 to 40 who participated in a 2014 study on familial and generational alcohol abuse.

Fifty-one percent of these participants were children of alcoholics.

Those who were heavier drinkers were more likely to change their ways than lighter drinkers.

"We believe that greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with the demands of roles like marriage," Dr. Lee said. "Thus, more severe problem drinkers are likely required to more substantially alter their drinking habits to adapt to the marital role.

According to Dr. Lee and team, changes among moderate drinkers are most likely simply a result of growing up. For severe drinkers, however, marriage could be a "turning point" in their alcohol use.

Dr. Lee and team said that these findings could uncover key insights into the nature of problem drinking.

This study was published July 30 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.