BUFFALO, NY (CBS Connecticut) – According to a recent study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), couples where only one spouse was a heavy drinker had a much higher divorce rate than other couples.

Researchers followed 634 couples from the time of their wedding through the first nine years of marriage.

The divorce rate was the same for couples in which both spouses were heavy drinkers and if neither were heavy drinkers.

“Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple’s drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation, and divorce,” Kenneth Leonard, PhD, RIA director, and lead author of the study said in a press release put out by the university.

Researchers defined “heavy drinking” as drinking six or more drinks at one time or drinking to intoxication.

Over the course of the study, researchers determined that half the couples where only one partner drank more heavily wound up getting divorced. The divorce rate for the other couples was lower, at 30 percent.

“This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce,” Leonard continued to say in the press release. “Although some people might think that’s a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now.”

It was surprising to the researchers that the divorce rate for two heavy drinkers was no worse than for two non-heavy drinkers. “Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits,” Leonard said. “While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children,” he added.

Researchers also found a higher divorce rate among couples in which the wife was the heavier drinker.

“Ultimately, we hope our findings will be helpful to marriage therapists and mental health practitioners who can explore whether a difference in drinking habits is causing conflicts between couples seeking help,” Leonard said.

The study will appear in the December issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.


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