Divorcing a Problem

Alcohol abuse in men makes divorce a therapeutic alternative for their wives

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Divorce typically increases the odds either party will develop a drinking problem; however if there are already alcohol issues within the home it may do the exact opposite, research finds.

While investigating the prevalence of drinking after marital dissolution, researchers at the University of Buffalo discovered that women who leave their alcohol-abusing husbands could reduce chances of developing their own issues. 

"Talk to your partner about treatment programs for alcohol abuse."

“Inasmuch as one’s drinking is influenced by the drinking of one’s spouse, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that individuals exiting a marriage with a problem drinking partner may exhibit improvements in drinking outcomes,” explains corresponding author Gregory Homish, Ph.D., and colleagues.

Published in the journal Addiction, the authors used this hypothesis to design their observational study into the symptoms of marital alcoholism. 

Dr. Homish, part of the Research Institute on Addictions at UB, and his team used data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) in their study. The authors used two waves of data from NESARC, the first wave alone gathering personal interview reports from over 43,093 respondents throughout the nation.

Of those, the study incorporated 18,413 women participating in both studies that were either married or living with a domestic partner. In the second wave of interviews, the respondents were asked about divorce and domestic separation.

In both rounds, individuals were specifically asked about their partner’s drinking habits. They were thoroughly questioned on their background with alcohol including their drinking frequency, typical quantities consumed per sitting, problematic symptoms, as well as histories of alcohol use disorder.

Using statistical models to draw conclusions, the authors first looked at the demographics of the women married to problem drinkers versus the women whose husbands did not drink excessively. The results indicated that men who abuse alcohol typically married women who had less in several categories—age, education, and income, to name a few. Moreover, these women were more likely to be black and previously diagnosed as an alcoholic.

From here, investigators examined divorce and separation rates and how this impacted alcohol behaviors.  They noticed not only did women married to alcohol abusers get divorced more readily, but they also ended up drinking less after the separation.

“The results suggested women ending their relationship with a problem drinking partner exhibited improvements in drinking outcomes at follow-up,” the research team writes. On the other hand, "women ending their relationship with a non-problem drinker displayed the expected pattern of increased risk.”

These findings exhibit a drastic difference between the groups, "substantiating the need for alcohol treatments to address a problem drinking partner," the authors suggest.  

A grant awarded to Dr. Homish from The Foundation for Alcohol Research funded the study. No conflicts were reported during the study, though authors believe the incorporation of solely female data limits the scope of their findings. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 10, 2012
Last Updated:
February 10, 2012