Heavy drinking takes a toll on individuals and relationships. As drinking becomes prioritized over responsibilities, it may become difficult for a problem drinker to maintain steady employment, leading to financial difficulties. In addition, alcohol use disorders are associated with a higher risk of developing depression, and the individual may experience sadness, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness. Problem drinkers may find that their spouse and children eventually decide to put some distance between themselves and the drinker. A recent study looked into the impact of married couples divorcing because of problem drinking.
While the troubles of the problem drinker have been well-documented in research as well as popular media, much less is known about the impact on the spouse of the problem drinker following a divorce. The study examined how drinking habits change among women who divorce a problem drinker husband.
Traditionally, marriage was viewed as a way to boost health. Studies support the idea that there are health advantages to marriage. However, the study authors wanted to determine whether, in some cases, there are health benefits to ending a marriage.
The researchers accessed information from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults that included two waves. The researchers concentrated on data that included over 18,000 females that were married, or living as if they were married in Wave 1, and also provided data at Wave 2.
The researchers asked the participants to report on drinking behaviors over the past year. They were asked how frequently they consumed alcohol, how many drinks they consumed on a drinking day and whether the participant exhibited alcohol abuse and dependence symptoms. In addition, the respondents were asked a single question to determine whether they were married to or living as if they were married to a partner with alcohol-related problems.
In the second wave, the participants were asked whether they had ended their relationship with their partner that they referenced in Wave 1. Relationship dissolution was considered to be divorce, separation or ending a situation in which they were living with someone as if they were married.
The researchers examined whether those women that had experienced relationship dissolution had any pattern related to whether the partner had a problem drinking status.
The results showed that when women ended a relationship that did not involve a problem drinker, there was an increased risk for all drinking-related outcomes. However, when women in a relationship with a problem drinker experienced relationship dissolution their risk for drinking-related outcomes was lowered.
The study findings are limited by some factors, including the lack of any direct data on the partners’ drinking behaviors. The reports by the wives may not have accurately depicted the true nature of their spouse’s drinking. In addition, the findings only included data from women, so it is impossible to determine whether men would experience similar associations between relationship dissolution and problem drinking.
The data is not sufficient to explain the changes that occurred in the wives’ drinking behaviors. It may be necessary to conduct additional research to determine whether the changes in drinking behaviors were directly related to the dissolution of the relationship.
It’s possible that divorce removed a negative influence that impacted the wife’s drinking habits, or they may have experienced a reduction in stress and anxiety following relationship dissolution. Women who began to improve their own drinking habits may have been motivated to divorce a husband that was a heavy drinker. Future research may include an examination of these possibilities.