Desire to Marry Prompts Extreme Heavy Drinkers to Cut Back
More than any other segment of the U.S. population, young adults in their 20s engage in heavy drinking, a practice defined by the consumption of enough alcohol to increase risks for diagnosable alcohol problems. In a study published in May 2015 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from two American universities examined the effect that adjusting life roles to get married has on the continuation of young adults’ typical patterns of alcohol consumption. These researchers found that the heaviest drinkers are the most likely to curb their alcohol use when getting married is a factor.
Heavy Drinking and Young Adults
The commonly accepted definition for heavy drinking varies according to the gender of the person consuming alcohol. A man moves from relatively safe moderate drinking to heavy drinking whenever he consumes more than four standard drinks (0.6 oz of pure alcohol per drink) on any given day or consumes more than 14 standard drinks in a given week. A woman moves from moderate drinking to heavy drinking whenever she consumes more than three standard drinks on any given day or consumes more than seven standard drinks in a given week. A single, repeated bout of monthly heavy drinking increases the lifelong odds of developing diagnosable alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse to about 20 percent, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports. A single, repeated weekly bout of heavy drinking boosts the odds to roughly 33 percent. People who regularly engage in multiple bouts of heavy drinking each week have a 50-50 chance of developing diagnosable alcohol problems.
Young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 maintain the nation’s highest heavy drinking rate (13.1 percent), according to recent figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The second highest rate (11.2 percent) occurs among adults between the ages of 26 and 29. Broadly speaking, the number of young adults who regularly engage in excessive alcohol consumption is falling slowly over time.
Changing Life Roles
At various times in life, most people must change the roles they typically play in their everyday lives and adjust their routines to follow suit. Psychologists and researchers sometimes refer to this changing of typical roles as role transition. Young adulthood is a particularly profound period of role transition for many individuals. During this time period, the requirements of adulthood truly take hold and many men and women find that the routines that served them reasonably well in earlier life no longer make sense or support their current goals. Marriage is one of a number of factors that may act as underlying sources of a need or desire to make life adjustments and change roles.
Life Adjustment and Heavy Alcohol Use
In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the University of Missouri and Arizona State University used data from a long-term project to assess the impact that role transition has on young adults’ level of involvement in heavy drinking. Over a number of years, a total of 844 adults participated in this project, which was designed to look at the ways that alcohol problems pass down family bloodlines. Roughly half of the study participants had at least one parent diagnosed with alcoholism. The researchers specifically gauged the extent to which getting married triggers a change in current patterns of excessive drinking. They undertook their work, in part, because some previous studies had shown that extreme heavy drinkers are more likely to change their consumption patterns after getting married than more moderate heavy drinkers.
After reviewing the alcohol use patterns of the study participants during young adulthood, the researchers confirmed the conclusion that extreme heavy drinkers (i.e., heavy drinkers who develop diagnosable alcohol problems or otherwise experience seriously negative alcohol-related outcomes) are more likely to change their drinking behaviors after getting married than heavy drinkers with a lower level of exposure to alcohol-related harm. They believe that role transition accounts for this finding. While relatively subdued heavy drinkers may not need to change their behaviors much in order to meet the new demands of marriage, extreme heavy drinkers must make a change if they want to maintain reasonable expectations of marital success.