Alcohol Consumption and Marriage: A Good Mix?

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: June 6, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Alcohol's impact on marriage -- for better or for worse -- is the focus of a study being conducted by a research scientist at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) under a new $1.5 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Kenneth E. Leonard, a clinical psychologist at RIA who also is a research professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is studying alcohol, the transition to marriage, and spouse and peer influence on alcohol use.

One goal of the project is to determine whether specific patterns of husband-and-wife drinking and drinking problems have an impact on marital happiness and divorce.

"While it seems common sense that drinking problems can cause divorce, there also is evidence that some couples can incorporate heavy drinking into the marriage," according to Leonard.

"Our previous research has found that couples who drink frequently and drink above average amounts, but who drink together and in their own home, tend to be very satisfied with their marriages. We also have found that couples in which the husband and wife have dramatically different drinking patterns are often the least satisfied with their marriage.

"The current study," he added, "will examine how husbands and wives change and adapt their drinking patterns to each other over the early years of marriage, and which couple-drinking patterns can have a deleterious effect on marriage."

The project continues a study Leonard began in 1996 that looked at spouse and peer influence on alcohol consumption in early marriage.

"This award," Leonard explained, "extends our assessment of couples from the time they took out marriage licenses through the celebration of their fourth anniversary. As we examine the impact that drinking has on marriage, we will also continue to investigate how marital experiences shape the drinking patterns of the couple. "

Leonard's original study on alcohol and marriage was a three-wave, longitudinal look at changes in drinking patterns and problems over the first two years of marriage. The goal of both projects is to examine the continuity/discontinuity of alcohol consumption patterns and alcohol problems over the transition to marriage.

To date, the project has recruited and assessed 642 couples as they applied for their marriage license. Couples participating in the project are assessed for drinking patterns and problems, individual difference factors, marital relationship factors and social network characteristics.

Leonard's research encompasses marital and family processes, parenting and infant development, and interpersonal and domestic violence.

The Research Institute on Addictions has been a national leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse for more than 30 years.