According to a recently published report in the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), released at the annual meeting of American Psychiatry Association (APA) held in Atlanta, there is a strong link between marriage and alcohol use disorder (AUD) in which marriage causes reduced alcohol use disorder likelihood.

For decades, scientists have been studying the factors which may increase a person’s likelihood of developing an alcohol disorder in order to understand and curb substance abuse effectively. With this study, a leap forward has been taken.

This study has found that vis-à-vis single individuals, those who are married have a substantially reduced likelihood of falling prey at the hands of AUD. This reduction in the risk of developing AUD was significantly found in both genders; married men showed a 60% reduction, while married women had a 71% reduction in the likelihood of developing AUD.

Kenneth Kendler, M.D., a professor of Psychiatry and Human and Molecular Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University and colleagues claimed that, this study has fostered the long held hypothesis which suggests that psychological and social aspects of a marriage, particularly health-monitoring spousal interactions have a protective role against the development of alcohol use disorder.

Kendler and colleagues from Lund University in Sweden found a correlation between marriage and developing AUD in Swedish population. In this longitudinal and co-relative study, the researchers used Swedish national birth, health and crime registries to get the required information for their analysis.

Large population-based cohorts were studied, primarily focusing on establishing a relation between first marriage and registration for AUD which followed. As AUD dependence is multi-factorial, this study did not intend to nullify other significant factors contributing towards developing AUD.

For this very purpose, factors like parental education, family history and background of criminal behavioral or substance drug were also examined. In over 3.2 million (a cohort of 3,220,628) participants, 72,252 were found to meet the criteria for AUD. A strong association was found between the spouse’s alcohol abuse history and subsequent risk of AUD development in the spouse. This was a crucial aspect suggesting that a marriage can be more protective for the spouse against AUD, if their partner does not habitually abuse alcohol.

After taking into account other factors in the study, the researchers found out that people with a family history of AUD were at a higher risk of developing AUD. In connection to this, the protective role of a marriage was more pronounced in people with a positive family history of AUD. Establishing this finding was supportive of the hypothesis that marriage plays a pivotal role in the life of heavy drinkers.

Marriage is a transition period in the life of heavy drinkers who benefit the most from the protective effect of marriage in fighting off their urge for alcohol consumption.

The authors commented that, interestingly enough, the protective effect of marriage persisted even when statistical analysis included factors like age, parental education, positive family history of AUD and early-onset externalizing syndromes. Inclusion of these factors and assessment of the hypothesis from all perspectives improved the reliability of results.

Marc Galanter, M.D., a professor of Psychiatry from New York University applauded the research finds and said: “The current study illustrates how environmental issues can be comparably influential. The study shows how spousal influence can have a beneficial effect, making alcohol use disorder much less likely to emerge.”

Scientists believe that the reflection of spousal influence in a naturalistic setting can be translated into clinical practices to help people recover from alcohol use disorder. In this context, the negative spousal history with alcohol abuse and health monitoring interactions between spouses play an essential role in reducing the risk of AUD onset

“As expected, we found a substantial main effect of those with a positive family history having a stronger risk for alcohol use disorder,” the researchers stated. “More interestingly, we found robust evidence that the protective effects of marriage were stronger in those with a family history compared to those without. This effect is consistent with recent findings that severe problem drinkers show the greatest decrease in drinking after the transition to marriage. Those at highest risk for alcohol problems appear to be the most likely to benefit from the protective effects of marriage”.