• Alcohol;
  • divorce;
  • marriage;
  • partner


Aims  Marital dissolution is associated with increased risk of problematic drinking. However, marriage to a problem drinker also increases this risk, and ending this type of relationship may actually decrease risk of problematic drinking. This study tested whether women ending their marriage to a problem drinker exhibited improvements in drinking.

Design  National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a two-wave nationally representative survey of the US adult population.

Setting  In-person interviews conducted in US households.

Participants  Females married or living as if married at wave 1 at least 18 years of age.

Measurements  Socio-demographics, drinking frequency, drinking quantity, alcohol use disorders, problem drinking, partner problem drinking and relationship dissolution.

Findings  Ending marriage to a non-problem drinker predicted increased frequency of drinking [risk ratio (RR) = 1.55; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.43, 1.67], heavier drinking (RR = 1.30; 95% CI = 1.71, 1.45), more problematic drinking (RR = 2.45; 95% CI = 2.17, 2.77) and a greater likelihood of use disorder diagnosis [odds ratio (OR) = 2.2; 95% CI = 1.67, 2.91]. Ending a relationship with a problem drinker predicted less frequent drinking (RR = 0.94; 95% CI = 0.90, 0.98), less heavy drinking (RR = 0.84; 95% CI = 0.78, 0.90) and fewer alcohol-related problems (RR = 0.77; 95% CI = 0.62, 0.95).

Conclusions  Ending a marriage with a husband who drinks problematically may decrease risk of alcohol-related problems among women, substantiating the need for alcohol treatments to address a problem drinking partner.