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Marriage Reduces Heavy Drinking in Young Adults


A collaborative study between the University of Missouri and Arizona State University showed strong evidence that young adults significantly curbed their heavy drinking after getting married. This was especially apparent in those who had a severe drinking problem before they got married.

The working theory behind this phenomenon is Role Incompatibility. It is the idea that if a person changes roles in their life – i.e. going from unmarried to married – and their behaviors do not fit into their new role, they are likely to change their behaviors to suit the new role. The more severe their problem before marriage, the more they had to change to fit into their role once they were married.

Our Take: Marriage often brings a level of happiness and stability to a young couple starting a new chapter in their lives. Heavy drinking does not usually fit within that box. As a result, it makes perfect sense that younger, married adults would effectuate change in their behavior – from drinking heavily to moderation.

The research is not meant to promote marriage as treatment option for heavy and particularly severe drinking. Rather, it gives us insight into what makes us tick – and in turn, we can develop strategies that mimic the underlying role change that is helping these married couples moderate their drinking habits.

So the big question on our mind: how do years of marriage (happy or otherwise), and divorce, affect alcohol consumption patterns in those same people? And what strategies can we use to mimic such an important and significant change in our lives to address substance abuse and even mental illness? Hopefully, new research will soon answer those questions.

The study was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and is entitled “Role Transitions and Young Adult Maturing Out of Heavy Drinking: Evidence for Larger Effects of Marriage Among More Severe Premarriage Problem Drinkers”