Maturing out is a stage in adulthood that makes many youth prone to alcohol but recent findings have shown that marriage can cause dramatic drinking reductions even among people with severe drinking problems.
Researchers from the University of Missouri and Arizona State University have found evidence that marriage can cause dramatic drinking reductions even among people with severe drinking problems. Scientists believe findings could help improve clinical efforts to help these people and lead to more targeted interventions for young adult problem drinkers.
“A key conceptual framework psychologists use to explain maturing out and the ‘marriage effect’ is role-incompatibility theory,” said Matthew Lee, a postdoc in the College of Arts and Science at MU. “The theory suggests that if a person’s existing behavioral pattern is conflicting with the demands of a new role, such as marriage, one way to resolve the incompatibility is to change behavior.”
The researchers used previous data from a long-term, ongoing study of familial alcohol disorders led by Laurie Chassin, Regents Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University.
They studied how the drinking habits changed as they aged from age 18 to 40, and how this change was affected by whether or not participants became married. About 50% of the participants included in the study of familial alcoholism were children of alcoholics.
“Confirming our prediction, we found that marriage not only led to reductions in heavy drinking in general, this effect was much stronger for those who were severe problem drinkers before getting married,” Lee said.
“This seems consistent with role incompatibility theory. We believe that greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with the demands of roles like marriage; thus, more severe problem drinkers are likely required to more substantially alter their drinking habits to adapt to the marital role.”
The researchers suggest further studies are needed to better understanding how these role-driven drinking reductions occur. They believe this could uncover key insights into the nature of clinically significant forms of problem drinking and inform public policy and clinical efforts to help severe problem drinkers.