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Drinking Imbalance Could Put Marriage on the Rocks

TUESDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Spouses who have very different drinking habits could have a rocky marriage, a new study finds.

Researchers in Norway found the risk for divorce increases when one person drinks more than the other. For instance, compared to couples who both drink lightly, a couple's risk for divorce could triple when the husband's level of drinking is low but the wife is a heavy drinker, they said.

"The risk of divorce is lowered if the spouses drink approximately the same amount of alcohol," said Fartein Ask Torvik, a corresponding author for the study and a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. "This is not only true for those who drink excessively, there is also a reduced risk of divorce if both spouses abstain totally from alcohol. "

Torvik said that, on average, divorced people drink more than married people. "To some extent, this is due to increased drinking after a divorce, but people who drink heavily also have a higher risk of experiencing a divorce, so heavy drinking likely interferes fundamentally with the quality of marriage."

Heavy drinking among women, however, appears to be more strongly associated with divorce than heavy drinking among men.

Ellinor Major, director of the institute's division of mental health, noted that heavy drinking among women is less acceptable than among men.

"A wife's heavy drinking probably also interferes more with general family life -- that is, the caring role of the mother, upbringing of children, etc.," Major said. "Perhaps the husband is more apt to the leave the spouse than is the wife when major problems occur."

For the study, published online Feb. 5 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researchers examined information on alcohol use and mental distress from data compiled on almost 20,000 married couples between 1984 and 1986. Using "time-to-event" analysis, the researchers calculated the participants' risk for divorce within 15 years.

The researchers said engaged couples should consider how and when their partner drinks before they get married.

"Someone with a light or moderate alcohol use who has a spouse who drinks heavily should encourage that spouse to change their drinking pattern into light or moderate level if the main concern is a lasting marriage of good quality," Major said. "Good advice probably would be to encourage a similar pattern of moderate or light drinking in both spouses."

The researchers pointed out that when both spouses drink heavily, the risk for divorce also goes up.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on alcohol consumption.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Norwegian Institute of Public Health, news release, Feb. 5, 2013

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