Previous studies have demonstrated that high alcohol consumption is a predictor of divorce. However, there is a lack of studies with prospective data from both spouses. The effects of drinking among husbands versus wives and of concordant versus discordant drinking in couples are therefore unknown. Concordant drinking may lead to increased divorce rates because the malignant effects of heavy drinking are experienced in double doses; alternatively it may lead to marital stability due to partner compatibility.
All inhabitants in a Norwegian county were invited to participate in a health study. We identified 19,977 married couples where both spouses participated. Respondents provided information on alcohol use and mental distress. Survival analysis was applied to study the risk of divorce over the next 15 years. Demographics and mental distress were used as covariates.
Heavy drinking among men (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.39) and women (HR = 1.41) increased the risk of future marital dissolution, even after adjusting for demography (reference group “light drinkers”). The HR for divorce was 1.51 when only the husband was a heavy drinker, while it was 3.07 when only the wife was a heavy drinker. Moreover, there were strong interaction effects: concordant abstainers (HR = 0.40) and concordant heavy drinkers (HR = 0.35) had lower risks of divorce compared to the risk expected from combining the main effects. Nevertheless, couples with 2 heavy drinkers (HR = 1.63) had higher risk of divorce than couples with 2 light drinkers.
This study demonstrated that both the level of alcohol use and compatibility in alcohol use are important predictors of marital dissolution.