Brain Candy

Every day life explained with science.

Marriage Makes Women Drink

Women imbibe more alcohol when they’re married verses single. Here’s why.

Back when I was a single woman in New York, I downed a slew of Cosmopolitans at fancy bars. Once I married, I figured my alcohol consumption would subside since I wasn’t going out so much. Only a new study at the University of Cincinnati argues the contrary, and after thinking about it I’d say it rings true for me: Women in long-term marriages drink slightly more than their single peers.

Why? According to Corinne Reczek, lead author on this not-yet-published study, it’s not because marriage makes women unhappy, which prompts them to drown their sorrows in booze. It’s because men, on average, drink more than women, and once they’re hitched their drinking habits dovetail. The study also shows that when single men marry, they drink less as a result of their wife’s influence. If a couple breaks up, divorced men resume their heavy drinking habits while women cut back to more moderate levels of drinking.

The take-home lesson: Spouses' habits affect one another for better and for worse—but it’s not as simple as painting women as angels and men as alcoholic oafs. For one, the study authors suggest that drinking in a marriage can help couples bond. What's more, most long-term married couples drank in moderation—which may not pose a health hazard—while recently and long-term divorced women reported more drinking-related problems than those in long-term marriages. As for why men drink more than women in the first place, Reczek theorizes this happens because men cope with stress by externalizing it, while women tend to internalize and just get depressed.

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All in all, this study sheds new light on what happens in my own home—how, sometimes, I convince my husband to stay home and watch a movie instead of heading to the bar with his buddies. Or how, other times, my husband cracks a beer, and I decide to join him. Maybe both scenarios are good for our marriage.

 

Judy Dutton writes about the quirkier, conversation-worthy discoveries coming out of laboratories today. She's the author of Secrets from the Sex Lab and Science Fair Season.

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