Couples Often Share Risk for Problem Drinking
Study finds 'like marries like,' although alcohol abuse isn't inevitable
THURSDAY, May 17, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- People at risk for drinking problems are more likely to marry someone who's also at risk for alcohol dependence, according to a team of American and Australian researchers.
Reporting in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researchers studied almost 6,000 twins born in Australia between 1902 and 1964. They also spoke with more than 3,800 of the twins' spouses.
"As they say, 'like marries like,'" first author Julia D. Grant, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a prepared statement.
"Spouse selection is not a random process, and we call this non-random mating. People tend to choose mates who are similar to them, not only from the same neighborhood or socio-economic background but also alike in personality and other behaviors. We found that people at risk for alcohol dependence tend to marry others who are at risk," Grant said.
But she and her colleagues said this doesn't necessarily mean that both spouses will end up with drinking problems. In some cases, one spouse's excess alcohol consumption may actually lower the risk that the other spouse will abuse alcohol.
"We don't really know how this works," Grant said. "It is possible that an individual decreases his or her alcohol consumption in reaction to the other's excessive alcohol use. Maybe one person is responsible for getting the kids up and out for school in the morning, for example."
She noted that alcohol dependence is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, such as employment, interests, family and friends.
"There's lots of room for different factors to influence the behavior of two people who are married. One spouse could work at a place where the co-workers go out for a drink after work. Or one spouse could be a regular churchgoer, while the other prefers to sleep," Grant said.
The American Medical Association has more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.