BUFFALO, N.Y. – Drinking plays an important and sometimes
unexpected role from one day to the next in young couples' romantic
relationships, according to a new study by University at Buffalo
and University of Missouri researchers.
The study extends past research by showing that alcohol use can
have both positive and negative effects, and documents the
circumstances in which these effects are more likely to occur.
Published November 29 in the Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin, these results may prove helpful in providing clues about
who might be at risk from the adverse consequences of alcohol use
within committed relationships.
"We really can't make the blanket statements about drinking and
romantic relationships that people have come to expect," according
to Ash Levitt, PhD, lead author on the report and postdoctoral
fellow at UB's Research Institute on Addictions. "For instance, it
turns out that drinking together rather than apart is clearly good
for relationships. Individuals who drink with their partner report
feeling increased intimacy and decreased relationship problems the
next day, compared to individuals who drink apart from their
partner or do not drink at all."
The beneficial outcomes for relationships were associated with
relatively lower levels of drinking, one to three drinks, whereas
harmful outcomes – decreased intimacy and increased
relationship problems – were associated with heavier levels
of drinking, as in four or more drinks.
The study included 69 heterosexual couples who averaged 20-21
years of age. The majority of the participants were white and over
90 percent were college students. Most were dating seriously and
seven of the couples were married.
Levitt's colleague on the study was M. Lynne Cooper, PhD, of the
University of Missouri.
Interestingly, heavy alcohol consumption was not always harmful
to relationships, according to Levitt. "The harmful effects of
heavy drinking were buffered when partners drank together vs.
apart," he explained. "Also, when both partners drank either heavy
or light amounts, as long as they were similar amounts compared to
their partner, it was better for the relationship than when one
drank heavily and the other lightly."
Finally, the associations between drinking and relationships
were stronger and more numerous for women than for men, suggesting
that alcohol use plays a larger role in romantic relationships for
women than it does for men. Women appeared to drink with their
partner in response to relationship problems, feeling disconnected
from him, or when they perceived that he had behaved negatively
toward them the day before. Also, only women were protected from
the harmful effects of heavier drinking when they drank with their
partner; men did not benefit in the same situation. Women also
drank significantly more on days following negative events with
their partners than men did after negative events.
"Using computerized or online daily diary methods to compile
day-to-day variations in thoughts and behaviors provided us with
very accurate sequences of events," according to Levitt. "This
reliable record of effects for each gender, the nature of the
drinking, and the processes occurring between the partners provided
information about factors that may make or break relationships over
The Research Institute on Addictions has been a national leader
in the study of addictions since 1970 and a research center of the
University at Buffalo since 1999.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.