Marriage Reduces Problem Drinking, Research Shows: Hope for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Binge drinking is often seen as a natural part of youth, a rite of passage, and a normal but temporary phase. A 21-year-old spending the night doing shots and staggering into work late with only a faint recollection of the festivities does usually not set off alarm bells in the way a 50-year-old in the same position would. As young people move forward to take on new life responsibilities, problem drinking often decreases, a process researchers refer to as “maturing out.” Having to get up for work means you can’t spend Tuesday night drinking beer from a funnel while your friends cheer you on–and the peers who used to match you shot for shot now have their own responsibilities to think about. As opportunities and social support for excessive drinking wane, alcohol typically becomes a less important part of your life. Now a study with promising implications for alcohol addiction treatmenthas found that marriage, in particular, can play a significant role in reducing binge drinking, especially among those with serious drinking problems.

Marriage Acts as a Catalyst for Recovery

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia examined data from an ongoing study from the University of Arizona that followed subjects from the age of 17 to 40, analyzing drinking behavior over time and in relation to marital status. They found that marriage was an important catalyst for reducing the amount of alcohol consumed, and that the effect was especially strong among people who engaged in problematic drinking behavior prior to marriage. This was true even when the subjects had a family history of alcoholism; over half of those involved in the study were children of an alcoholic parent.

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Role Incompatibility Theory

The experts behind the study identify the driving force behind the behavioral change as “role incompatibility,” viewing “role conflict as a key mechanism of role-driven behavior change, as greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with demands of roles like marriage.” In other words, binge drinking is incompatible with maintaining a healthy and satisfying marriage, and taking on marital responsibilities requires a tempering of alcohol consumption. The more problematic your drinking, the more you need to change your behavior in order to fulfill your new role as a spouse.

Implications for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The findings of the study shed light on the promise of alcohol addiction treatment; it shows that with the correct incentives, people can and will make positive changes to regulate alcohol consumption and disrupt self-destructive patterns of behavior. Commitment to behavioral changes can override even hereditary factors predisposing you to alcohol addiction. By teasing out the elements that cause married people to stop drinking, clinicians can design better interventions for people engaging in problematic drinking.

A primary motivator for decreased alcohol intake amongst married people may be accountability; a marriage is a partnership between two people who are directly and intimately affected by each other’s actions. By becoming accountable to another person, you gain a new awareness of how your drinking affects both you and those around you, and have to acknowledge the problems caused by your relationship with alcohol. The carefree days of stumbling home drunk at sunrise with no one to question you are gone, and suddenly the very real consequences of that behavior become apparent as you see yourself through the eyes of your spouse and realize that your drinking threatens to undermine your marriage. Marriage may also fulfill emotional needs that you were previously attempting to meet using alcohol; by having a satisfying emotional connection with another person, you may naturally gain the sense of well-being and gain release from distress that you were seeking through drinking.

A comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment program can incorporate these motivating factors and help you stay accountable to both yourself and others, identify ways of meeting your needs without the use of alcohol, and gain the insight you need to create a productive, healthy life. While some people are able to manage their alcohol consumption on their own, professional intervention can optimize your chances of success by providing support, nurturing, and modern, evidence-based therapies that are proven to reduce your odds of relapse. Don’t let drinking stand in the way of your dreams; take action and start your journey toward lasting recovery today.


Alta Mira offers complete and personalized alcohol addiction treatment in a beautiful residential setting. Contact us for more information about our program and how we can help you or your loved one on the path to healing.