Moderation? We Do.
For both bachelors and bachelorettes, a trip to the altar has long been seen as both a beginning and end: on the one hand, the commencement of wedded bliss and, on the other, the termination of youthful indiscretion.
But just how well do such folksy sentiments hold up under the cold light of scientific scrutiny? Pretty well, it turns out. New research suggests that, at least where heavy drinking is concerned, matrimony may indeed be a key to moderation.
According to a study by MU and Arizona State University researchers, marriage is associated with dramatic drinking reductions, even among people with severe drinking problems. The findings, the scientists say, could help those with alcohol disorders, inform public-health policy changes and lead to more targeted interventions. “A key conceptual framework psychologists use to explain ‘maturing out’ and the ‘marriage effect’ is role-incompatibility theory,” said Matthew Lee, an MU postdoctoral fellow in psychological sciences. “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 previously collected data from a long-term, ongoing study of familial alcohol disorders led by Laurie Chassin, Regents Professor of Psychology at ASU. They examined how the drinking rates of the participants changed as they aged from age 17 to 40, and how this change was affected by whether or not participants became married. About 50 percent 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 study, co-authored by Lee, Chassin and ASU’s David MacKinnon, was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research earlier this year.