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Habits May Keep Couples Together or Tear Them Apart

If one partner smokes, drinks more than the other, marriage may suffer, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Marriages can be at risk when one partner is an excessive drinker and/or smoker, but the other isn't, researchers say.

However, when their drinking and/or smoking habits are similar, both partners remain relatively satisfied with their marriage, according to the study published in a recent edition of the journal Addiction.

Researchers tracked 634 newly married couples for seven years, and at their first, second, fourth and seventh wedding anniversaries, the couples completed questionnaires about their marital satisfaction.

Overall, there were initial declines in marital satisfaction, followed by a leveling off after a few years. At each assessment, a difference in heavy drinking between spouses was more common than a difference in smoking. About 15 percent of the couples reported differences in both smoking and drinking habits, the study authors noted.

The information collected from the couples revealed important clinical information, said study author Gregory G. Homish, an assistant professor of health behavior, and colleagues in the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions and the university's Research Institute on Addictions.

"For example, if one partner of a heavy-drinking couple enters treatment for his/her alcohol use, the break-up of the 'drinking partnership' could have unintended negative outcomes for the couple," Homish said in a news release from the university. "Therefore, approaches such as behavior couples therapy that assess and treat both partners could have a more beneficial outcome at both the individual and family level."

In terms of research, "the current findings suggest that an assessment of substance use should extend beyond quantity and frequency of substance use and also incorporate information about the partner's behavior," Homish noted.

"Most studies that investigate the impact of substance use focus solely on individual-level risk factors and do not consider the impact of social network influences such as those that exist from a partner," Homish stated in the news release.

More information

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has more about alcohol problems.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University at Buffalo, State University of New York, news release, Sept. 16, 2009

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