Is Jealousy and Low Self-Esteem Fueling Your Drinking?

Being unable to trust your romantic partner but feeling as though your self-worth hinges on the relationship is enough to drive a person to drink. And, in many cases, that’s just what happens, according to the results of a University of Houston study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The study asked 277 university students, most of them women, to describe their drinking pattern, their jealousy level, the closeness and commitment in their romantic relationship, and their satisfaction with it. They were also asked to evaluate their levels of what researchers term relationship contingent self-esteem (RCSE) — in other words, how much they depend on the relationship to feel good about themselves.

What they found was that alcohol was more likely to be used as a way to cope when jealousy accompanied a tendency toward RCSE. And excessive drinking was even more likely when the person also reported feeling less satisfied, less committed and more disconnected from their partner.

Understanding this interplay provides another way of identifying those for whom drinking can become a problem, study lead author Dr. Angelo DiBello told Elsevier. “I think it is important to understand the role romantic jealousy plays in the larger context of problem behaviors,” he said. “Ultimately, I hope to use findings like these to support the development of prevention and intervention efforts among individuals who may struggle with alcohol, self-esteem and relationship issues.”

Such efforts would include an emphasis on helping the person understand the distortions and biases in their thinking so that they can begin to untie their self-esteem from the other person. Doing so helps to diminish the distress felt when problems occur in the relationship. For example, rather than feeling worthless and reaching for a drink when they suspect their partner of cheating, the person might be better able to identify what they are feeling, evaluate it realistically and deal with it in healthy ways.

A link between jealousy and alcohol use has been documented in previous research, as has the link between jealousy and relationship quality. What this study documents for the first time is a connection between all three — romantic jealousy, RCSE and problem drinking.

What this highlights for those who may already be struggling with both their alcohol use and with a relationship is that it is crucial to take a candid look at the emotions underlying each. What are you getting from that drink? Is it a way to dampen your distress? Is this relationship bolstering you, or is it an unhealthy attachment — an attempt to find in someone else what seems to be missing in yourself? Research shows that the less able we are to identify what we’re feeling, the more likely we are to turn to alcohol to deal with our emotions. Knowing what we are feeling, however, can keep us from becoming so overwhelmed that alcohol seems to provide the only answer.

“We all experience feelings of jealousy to some degree; many people are in relationships that are less than ideal, and use alcohol for different reasons,” Dr. DiBello noted. “Romantic jealousy is a shared human experience, but very little work has looked at how it is related to alcohol use, misuse and associated problems. This research helps to highlight the associations between these factors and show how our emotions, thoughts and behaviors are related in potentially harmful ways.”


The green eyed monster in the bottle: Relationship contingent self-esteem, romantic jealousy, and alcohol-related problems
Addictive Behaviors, Volume 49, Issue null, Pages 52-58
Angelo M. DiBello, Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Benjamin W. Hadden, Clayton Neighbors

Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 59, Issue null, Pages 96-101
Jennifer C. Veilleux, Kayla D. Skinner, Elizabeth D. Reese, Jennifer A. Shaver

Posted on February 13th, 2016

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