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Marriage Drives Us to Drink Less

New research confirms married people consume less alcohol than their single or divorced counterparts.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Feeling the need to cut back on your alcohol consumption? It’s easier than you think. Just get married.

Granted, that prescription sounds like someone took a Catskill comedian’s material and turned it inside out. But it’s actually the conclusion of a newstudy, which finds “strong evidence that intimate relationships cause a decline in alcohol consumption.”

“Married adults are better off than their unmarried counterparts in a variety of domains,” a research team led by University of Virginia psychologist Diana Dinescu writes in the Journal of Family Psychology. Several studies have identified drinking as one such sphere, with married adults imbibing less on average than their divorced or never-married counterparts.

But drawing conclusions from such research is tricky due to the difficulty of establishing cause and effect. It’s possible that people who drink less are more likely to get married, or that some unknown variable is responsible for this effect.

To get around these limitations, Dinescu and her colleagues used a sample of twins — 807 male pairs, and 1,618 female pairs — from the Washington State Twin Registry. This allowed them to compare the drinking habits of married and unmarried siblings with a shared genetic background and family history.

Marriage seems to have a protective effect against excessive drinking.

Participants, who were surveyed in 2010, indicated whether they were married, widowed, divorced, separated, never married, or living with a partner. They also indicated how often they drank, and how many drinks they had “on a typical day when you are drinking.”

“In comparison to both single and divorced adults, married adults drank significantly fewer alcoholic beverages per occasion,” the researchers report. “Our evidence suggests that individuals drink the most, in frequency and quantity, when they are single.”

The findings for non-married people who live together were more mixed. “Cohabitating men and women drink more frequently than married men and women,” the researchers report, “but quantity-wise, cohabiting men drink less, whereas women do not differ significantly (from their married counterparts).”

The results suggest The Days of Wine and Roses scenario, in which husband-and-wife alcoholics enable one another’s addictions, seems to be the exception. Rather, marriage seems to have a protective effect against excessive drinking.

As to why, Dinescu and her colleagues note that husbands and wives “may monitor each other’s behavior, support positive coping, alter each other’s values, and encourage delayed gratification more generally.”

Not to mention the fact that married people presumably spend less time in bars.