University study claims marriage reduces heavy alcohol consumption

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COLUMBIA - University of Missouri researchers believe they have found a link between marriage and lower alcohol consumption.

MU researchers have been using data collected by Arizona State University for more than thirty years to help explain something called the 'marriage effect,' where young adults who drink heavily before marriage see a drastic decrease in alcohol consumption over time.

Matthew Lee, a postdoctoral fellow at the MU Department of Psychological Sciences, said he and other researchers at MU have been working with ASU researchers to determine this relation between marriage and heavy consumption of alcohol over different age groups. 

By studying more than a thousand participants, researchers came up with a hypothesis known as the 'role incompatibility theory," which posits that binge drinking and marriage leads to a mismatch of lifestyles and spurs change. 

"One way to resolve the incompatibility is to change the behavior," Lee said. "So, based on that we made the prediction that the more severe problem drinkers will have drinking patterns particularly incompatible with the demands of marriage, so they will have to reduce their drinking in an especially high degree in order to adapt to that role."

KOMU 8 News asked married mid-Missourians about their thoughts on the study, and most of them said they saw a similar pattern in their own life.

"As a college student, I would binge drink maybe two to three times a week," said Ryan Knowles, a Columbia resident. "And then when I was married before I had kids, I would go out maybe two to three nights a week, but probably wouldn't drink quite as much."

Lee said there are a number of factors that were considered in the study, accounting for a 'maturing out' of binge drinking that comes with age. However, Lee said the effect of marriage on heavy drinkers was the primary focus of this study. 

Lee said young adults who did report being heavy drinkers typically did not see much of a decrease in their drinking habits.

Lee said even though there is still plenty of research that needs to be done, this study represents an important step forward in understanding the broad factors linked to substance abuse disorders and may one day help clinical efforts to help people with severe drinking problems.

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