The effects of alcohol consumption on close relationships among couples is poorly understood. This study investigated the benefits and disadvantages of drinking and its effects on relationships for both men and women. The results suggest that the effects of drinking on relationships are complex with both positive and negative aspects. Its effects greatly depend on the situation and the amount of alcohol consumed. Women seem to benefit more when they drink low to moderate amounts along with their partners. However, when women drink apart from their partners or when they drink more than their partners, the effects are more likely to be negative.
It is a common belief that drinking causes problems in close relationships. This is because the majority of past studies concentrated only on the negative consequences. Nevertheless there are reports suggesting that drinking can have positive effects on relationships. This study, carried out under true-to-life settings, considered various aspects of drinking: together or apart and the amount of alcohol consumed. The researchers hoped to provide an overall picture of how drinking affects the relationships.
* Sixty-nine heterosexual couples, with an average age of 21 who had been together for almost two years, were included in the study.
* Of the 69 couples, 56 pairs were identified in which both partners drank. Among the remaining 13 couples, only one member of the pair drank. The study lasted for three weeks and the participants answered computer-based questionnaires twice daily. They were instructed not to discuss the answers among themselves.
* Researchers noted the relative and absolute amounts alcohol consumed by the couples, and whether individuals drank apart or with their partners. The questionnaire included questions concerning the consequences of drinking; that is, the extent of intimacy (morning report), partner behavior and relationship events.
* The desire for alcohol use was predicted based on prior day relationship events. The consequences were analyzed based on the prior day’s alcohol use.
*For women, low levels of intimacy and negative relationship events increased the urge to drink. For men, only negative relationship events significantly influenced alcohol use.
* Drinking together resulted in positive outcomes compared to drinking apart.
* If one or both partners drank heavily it had a negative with respect to intimacy and relationships.
* If women drank alone or drank more than men when drinking together, it had a negative effect on the relationship and resulted in a lower level of intimacy the next day.
* For women, moderate drinking together with their partner resulted in more positive outcomes on their relationships and intimacy, compared to women who did not drink at all or drank apart.
The majority of the participants were young, white, and well educated; therefore, the findings cannot be generalized. Future studies should include a more diverse sample. It wasn’t possible possible to distinguish between negative behavior related to personality and negative behavior related to alcohol use. Transient effects of alcohol use can’t be captured using next-day reports.
As reported in previous studies, there are many more negative outcomes from drinking than positive outcomes, irrespective of gender. This was especially true when the consumption of alcohol was heavy. Women seemed to benefit from alcohol consumption, but only under certain circumstances, such as drinking with their partners and when they did not violate gender-linked norms for drinking such as drinking in moderation and drinking less than their partners.
For More Information:
Daily Alcohol Use and Romantic Relationship Functioning: Evidence of Bidirectional, Gender-, and Context-Specific Effects
Publication Journal: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, August 2010
By Ash Levitt; M. Lynne Cooper; University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, New York, and University of Missouri, Columbia