Alcohol abuse could influence if and when you get married, and how long the union ultimately lasts, according to a new study.

The results showed that female alcoholics were 23 percent less likely to get married than women who were not alcoholics, regardless of age. Men who were alcoholics were 36 percent less likely to get married after age 29 than those who weren't.

And people who were alcoholics were more than twice as likely to separate from their spouses than those who were not alcoholics, the study found.

The study is one of few that has examined the relationship between problem drinking, delayed marriages and separation, the researchers said.

"These findings are about what happens before or in the course of developing alcoholism ," said study researcher Mary Waldron, an assistant professor at Indiana University School of Education. "That it is yet one more potential consequence of alcoholism."

Approximately 17.6 million Americans are alcohol-dependent or abuse alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Alcoholism and marriage

The study began in 1980 with 5,420 participants, ages 28 to 92, all of whom were Australian twins recruited from an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council volunteer panel. The participants reported their medical histories, including past substance abuse and any psychological conditions they'd had. They also reported information about their marriages and common law partnerships.

Based on their reports, the researchers determined which of the 1,845 men and 3,575 women had three or more symptoms of alcohol dependence in a 12-month period, based on the criteria set in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Regardless of alcohol abuse history, other factors such as the birth of a child and educational attainment influenced the timing of marriage and whether the marriage lasted, the study showed.

For example, women under age 25 who had one child were more than three times as likely to separate from their husbands than women of the same age without children, the researchers said. However, for women ages 25 and over, having one child or more children lowered their chances of separation.

Men under age 35 who had left school before grade 12 were nearly two times as likely to separate from their wives as men who completed high school or had higher education. Dropping out of school prior to grade 12 was linked to early marriage among women.

Alcohol dependence and the marriage effect

There are aspects of alcohol dependence that are likely to lead people to marry early and have strained marriages, such as antisocial and impulsive behavior, said Kenneth Leonard, a research professor of psychiatry and senior research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo in New York, who was not involved with the study.

"There are a number of factors that lead to alcohol dependence and independently lead to marital problems specifically hostile, antisocial and impulsive traits," Leonard said. "Alcohol dependence often leads to behaviors while intoxicated that can have a lasting impact on the relationship, like verbal insults, domestic violence and sexual infidelity."

The link between alcohol abuse and marital problems is not completely understood. While some previous findings have suggested a positive "marriage-effect" on alcoholics, such as decreases in drinking rates among married adults and parents, particularly for women, other studies have indicated heavy drinkers experience higher levels of marital aggression and dissatisfaction.

"The finding, with respect to early separation, suggests that brief prevention efforts targeting newly married couples might be useful," Leonard said. It also suggests that alcoholism treatment should consider the alcoholic person, and marital therapists should consider substance use by both partners, he said.

Further studies will examine the effects of delayed marriage and early separation on the children of alcoholics , Waldron said.

And for those who are at risk for developing alcoholism, Waldron said, the findings could serve as a red flag for potential costs of the condition.

"Part of the emotional landscape of alcoholism is sometimes denial, and so you may not want to recognize the consequences," she told MyHealthNewsDaily. "It is important to recognize that alcoholism impacts not only the alcoholic but others."

The study will be published in the April 2011 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The work was funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Pass it on: Those who abuse alcohol may marry later and be more likely to separate from their spouses than those who don't.

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