Husband's Drinking Behavior Influences Circle of Friends, Social Life of Newlyweds

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: December 22, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Women tend to adapt to their husband's drinking behavior during the first year of marriage, with his drinking behavior influencing who they choose as friends and the role of drinking in their social life, according to research conducted at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

The study of 519 couples in their first year of marriage found that while men do not appear to adapt to their wives' drinking behavior, "husbands' drinking had an influence on wives' drinking," said Kenneth E. Leonard, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study.

In addition, the husband's drinking predicted the extent of drinking among both his friends and his wife's friends, suggesting that the husband's drinking influenced the type of people with whom the couple socialized.

"Wives," Leonard added, "may be more likely to drop their own friends if their drinking behaviors are not consistent with their husband's drinking behavior, and more likely to keep friends whose drinking is similar to that of their husbands."

Husbands also appeared to have reshaped their social networks through selective dropping and retaining of peers and incorporating wives' peers into their own networks. However, these processes, when they occurred, were linked to their own drinking behavior, but not linked to the drinking behavior of the wives.

According to Leonard, this creates a risky situation, particularly for women. Women who were heavy drinkers before marriage tended to marry heavy-drinking men, and both spouses tended to have heavy-drinking peers. Over the first year of marriage, the women were influenced by their husbands' drinking, and appear to establish a drinking supportive network. The cumulative impact of these processes on women's drinking has the potential to create a high-risk situation of a self-perpetuating nature for these women.

Leonard is a senior research scientist at RIA and director of the Division of Psychology within the

Department of Psychiatry in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. His co-author on the study, reported in the June 2003 issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, was Pamela Mudar, RIA project staff associate.

The study was supported by a $2.9 million grant over 10 years from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The average age of the couples in the study was 29. Sixty-four percent of the husbands and 70 percent of the wives had some college education. Sixty-four percent were white, 35 percent were African-American. Twenty-five percent of the couples had a child together before marriage and 10 percent were expecting a child at the time of the marriage. Sixty-nine percent of the couples had lived together before marriage.

The Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of addictions since 1970 and a research center of the University at Buffalo since 1999.