Married people are less likely to have drinking problems than single people, and that protective effect is particularly strong among those with a family history of alcoholism, a new study suggests.
“While clinicians have long been aware of the potentially important protective effects of marriage on alcohol problems, our study puts this observation on a firm scientific footing,” said study leader Dr. Kenneth Kendler. He is a professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 3 million people in Sweden born between 1960 and 1990, including more than 70,000 with drinking problems.
Compared to single people, the risk of an alcohol use disorder was 60 percent lower among married men and 71 percent lower among married women, although the study couldn’t prove that marriage caused that lower risk.
Still, the findings “strongly suggest that marriage does indeed directly and substantially reduce risk for onset of alcohol use disorder. It is also especially intriguing that this effect is largest in those at highest risk,” Kendler said in a news release from the American Psychiatric Association.
The protective effect of marriage may be due to the fact that married people tend to monitor their spouses’ health and influence their lifestyle habits, the researchers said.
However, the researchers also found that men and women married to a spouse with a history of alcoholism were more likely to have drinking problems than single people.
The study was published online May 16 in the American Journal of Psychiatry and released at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting this week in Atlanta.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol use disorders.