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Alcohol increases likelihood of divorce where only one spouse drinks

Date:5 DEC 2013

The risk of divorce is far higher for couples where one spouse drinks heavily and the other is teetotal than where both are non-drinkers or both heavy drinkers, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) followed 634 couples from the time of their weddings through the first nine years of marriage and found that nearly 50 per cent of couples where only one partner drank more heavily ended up divorcing, while the divorce rates for other couples was only 30 per cent.  Heavy drinking was defined as drinking six or more drinks at one time or drinking to intoxication.

‘Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple's drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce,' said Kenneth Leonard, director and lead author of the study.

‘This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce,' Mr Leonard said. ‘Although some people might think that's a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now.'

The study revealed that the divorce rate for two heavy drinkers was no worse than for two non-heavy drinkers. ‘Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits,' Mr Leonard continued. But he cautioned that this does not mean other aspects of family life are unimpaired. ‘While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children.'

In England alone 1.6 million people are dependent on alcohol. More than one in five children (2.6 million) live with a parent who drinks hazardously.