Young and got a drinking problem? Get married (seriously!)

  • AFP
  • Updated: Aug 05, 2015 18:15 IST

Drinking among young people is an issue of public health and policy concern in countries around the world. But now a rather unusual solution might come to rescue.

Problem drinking tends to decrease with age for many individuals, but a new study says marriage could allow young people with a tendency to abuse alcohol to bypass an unhealthy phase.

While social scientists and psychologists would have once said that binge-drinking young adults are not ready for marriage and should learn to curb their habit before tying the knot, this US-based research team has another perspective.

"Confirming our prediction, we found that marriage not only led to reductions in heavy drinking in general, this effect was much stronger for those who were severe problem drinkers before getting married," says Matthew Lee of the University of Missouri.

Springboarding off a theory that Lee describes as the "role incompatibility theory," the team hypothesized that the most severe of problem drinkers must make the most dramatic changes in order to adapt to the demands of married life.

Behavioral change, says Lee, is one way to resolve incompatibility with a new role such as that of a husband or wife.

In the study, the researchers used data from an already-existing study about family alcohol disorders and observed changes in drinking rates as participants aged from 17 to 40 years old.

A bit more than 50% of participants had alcoholic parents -- a total of 844 -- according to the study.

Using longitudinal growth models, the team established a curve-shaped trajectory of alcohol intake through the age gap, meaning that the older people got, the less they drank.

This effect was even more pronounced for those who were problem drinkers before marrying, according to the study, whose hypothesis was thus confirmed.

"We believe that greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with the demands of roles like marriage," says Lee. "Thus, more severe problem drinkers are likely required to more substantially alter their drinking habits to adapt to the marital role."

The study brings to light the concept of lifestyle roles as a driving force behind reducing alcohol consumption.

The research team believes that with further studies, they could uncover key insights that could change our approach to young people who abuse alcohol.

The study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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