Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Alcohol in the Early Years of Marriage

Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Alcohol in the Early Years of Marriage

Article excerpt

Marriage, a marker event for the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, brings with it many changes, including shifts in values, new roles, and adjustments in a couple's relationship. Marriage also appears to generate shifts in alcohol use and alcohol consumption, changes that can occur even before the marriage ceremony takes place. Alcohol plays a role in marital violence, marital quality, and marital disruptions. However, high levels of individual alcohol consumption in a marriage do not uniformly lead to lower marital quality. Rather, it may be the nature of a couple's drinking partnership (i.e., the interplay of each spouse's drinking context and drinking patterns) that has the most effect on the health of a marriage.

KEY WORDS: marital status; AOD use pattern; AOD consumption; marital relations; marital conflict; domestic violence; young adult

One of the most important transitions in life, both generally and from an alcohol-problems perspective, is marriage. Marriage not only involves major changes but also serves as a marker event for the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Often, but not uniformly, marriage occurs with other milestones, such as stable adult employment and parenthood. As a developmental transition, marriage carries with it a variety of tasks that can fundamentally alter both the individual's view of him- or herself and the way in which the broader social network behaves toward the individual and the couple. Newly married people often demonstrate a marked shift away from more individualistic values and toward more interdependent and socially positive values (e.g., a greater concern for the quality of life in one's neighborhood and a greater concern for children), consistent with the adoption of the new role of spouse. Major tasks that come with marriage involve the establishment of a mutually satisfactory relationship and the reestablishment or redefinition of ties, both as individuals and as a couple, with each member's extended family and peer network (Boss 1983; McGoldrick and Carter 1982). Although these transitional tasks are often begun before marriage, their accomplishment continues into the early years of marriage.

Marriage also appears to engender a vital transition for newlyweds with respect to alcohol use and alcohol problems. Although much has been written on alcohol's effect on married life, little research has taken place on the role of alcohol during the transition to and early years of marriage. This article attempts to shed some light on this important developmental time period.


Alcohol use, particularly heavy alcohol use,' may come into play before the marriage itself through facilitating or delaying entry into marriage. Some evidence suggests that heavy drinking among adolescents may actually facilitate entry into marriage. For example, Power and Estaugh's (1990) longitudinal study of British youth reported that the males who were the heaviest drinkers when surveyed at age 16 were more likely to be married at age 23 than other males. Drinking was not predictive of marriage for females. This finding was generally corroborated in a recent study by Forthofer and colleagues (1996). This effect may not be a result of the drinking per se but rather may stem from the fact that adolescents who are heavy drinkers are less likely to enter college and more likely to adopt adult roles after high school graduation. Other studies, however, have found either that drinking has no effect on selection into marriage (Bachman et al. 1984) or that alcohol problems (e.g., legal, occupational, or health problems associated with drinking) in young adulthood may delay marriage (Horwitz and White 1991). Clearly, more research is needed to clarify these contradictory findings.

Alcohol use might play a role in how people select their partners: Considerable research suggests that alcoholics are likely to be married to alcoholic spouses (see Jacob and Bremer 1986). …

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