Alcoholism Linked to Divorce, Studies Suggest

Divorce or widowhood may increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol addiction, according to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

In a 2017 report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers examined the relationship between divorce and alcoholism among more than 942,000 married people in Sweden who lived with their spouse in or after 1990.

These individuals were born between 1960 and 1990 and had no history of alcohol addiction prior to marriage.

The results showed that spousal loss through divorce or bereavement increased the risk of alcohol addiction among both men and women. However, women were more likely than men to develop the disease upon divorce, the report indicated.

The study also found that divorce increased the risk of alcoholism in people with a family history of the disease or with prior behavior problems. However, divorced people who remarried showed a large decline in alcohol addiction.

“The study shows that interpersonal relationships can have a profound influence on risk for alcohol use disorder, said Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, first author of the study. “Social factors are really important.”

Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry , said the stress of divorce is not the main cause of the increased risk of alcohol addiction.

Instead, the loss of protective factors of marriage was linked to an increased risk of contracting alcohol addiction. For example, Kendler suggested that married partners often prevent each other from engaging in dangerous behaviors such as smoking and drinking.

The research team is conducting another study to understand how having children influences the development of alcoholism.

Alcoholism and Divorce Examined in Previous Study

The study was an extension of a previous report by the same research team. Published in the journal Addiction, the 2016 report investigated the genetic and environmental factors that influence a relationship between alcohol addiction and divorce.

The report evaluated national population registries to identify twin and sibling pairs with alcohol addiction and divorce information. In total, researchers analyzed the information of 670,836 Swedish people born between 1940 and 1965. Men represented 53 percent of the sample.

Researchers identified a strong correlation between alcohol addiction and divorce. They also found that those with the set of genes common to both alcoholism and divorce may increase the risk for experiencing both occurrences.

Environmental factors also influence the correlation between alcoholism and divorce, according to the report.

Dr. Jessica Salvatore, lead author of the 2016 study, said genetic factors accounted for about 50 percent of the link between divorce and the disease. Environmental elements represented the remaining amount.

Salvatore said the study may help health care professionals treat people experiencing alcohol addiction and spousal loss.

Heavy Drinking Can Lead to Divorce

Both studies by VCU and Swedish researchers show divorce can result in alcoholism. Conversely, heavy drinking can lead to divorce.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions tracked 634 couples during their first nine years of marriage. Couples with one spouse who was a heavy drinker had a higher divorce rate than that of other couples, the 2013 study found.

Nearly 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce if only one partner was a heavy drinker, defined as consuming six or more drinks at once or drinking to become drunk. Among nondrinking couples, 30 percent experienced divorce.

The study also showed that the divorce rate for couples with two heavy drinkers was on par with that of couples with no heavy drinkers.

In 2015, the United States experienced 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women aged 15 or older, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. That year, more than 1 million women divorced.

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