Marital Status and Addiction

In its most basic form, marital status indicates whether a person is married or single. This can be extended to include other descriptors, such as divorced, widowed, cohabiting, civil union, etc, which are all seen as single from a legal standpoint. Since alcohol and drug addiction affects both men and women, it is then experienced across a variety of marital statuses. Numerous studies have been done to find trends in alcohol and drug dependence within single and married groups, and it has been found that an individual’s marital status can indeed affect the likelihood of them falling victim to alcohol addiction or drug abuse.

Relationship Status and Alcoholism

Overall, studies have shown that marriage actually accelerates a decrease in alcohol use when compared to those who remain single. One reason that has been suggested is that married couples often drink less or experience a greater length of time between drinks than individuals who are unmarried. In particular, a person who has been an alcoholic prior to marriage will experience fewer incidents of alcohol abuse as time progresses after they have found a husband or wife. This decline is much stronger when compared to those who never marry. Several factors, such as a decreased amount of spare time, a more mature adult image, or a sense of commitment and intimacy have been suggested as reasons for this trend.

The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) lists statistics about marital status and alcohol dependence that agree with the above findings.

Marital Status Abstainer Light Drinker Moderate Drinker Heavy Drinker
Married 56.93% 20.71% 15.63% 6.25%
Cohabiting 35.72% 24.02% 24.62% 15.29%
Widowed 80.45% 9.12% 7.10% 2.99%
Divorced 52.32% 19.29% 17.83% 10.16%
Separated 54.22% 18.69% 15.88% 10.43%
Never Married 47.04% 18.70% 23.32% 10.34%

These percentages clearly show that there is a lower tendency for married couples to engage in binge drinking or other forms of alcohol abuse. They also show that after a marriage is over, whether through separation or divorce, the chances are higher of an individual to slip back into alcoholism. This could be because the restraints of commitment and intimacy have been removed, or as a result of the depression that such an event could cause.

Marital Status and Drug Use

It has also been shown that marriage has a positive effect on substance abuse. One study in particular showed that the transition from single to married resulted in the greatest decrease in marijuana use within their findings. Also of significance was the fact that those who had remained married throughout the course of the study were the least likely to be marijuana users. In contrast, it was also shown that those who were married and then got divorced over the period of the study experienced a negative result in the form of a sharp rise in marijuana usage.

Age has also been shown to have an effect. While the previous study looked at substance abuse in subjects aged 18 to 45, another looked at a much younger age bracket (18 to 20) and revealed a different trend when comparing drug abuse to marital status. In particular, with these younger ages, there was no decline in substance use when an individual entered into a relationship. There was, however, the tendency for those who moved out of a relationship or who changed partners rapidly to experience an increase in the use of drugs, such as marijuana.

Treatment and Marital Status

When assisting a married patient who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is important to also offer therapy to the spouse and any children that are involved as well. This is because the negative behavior of this substance abuse can affect the whole family unit. It has been shown that spouses married to alcoholics are at a higher risk of suffering from depression and may even become addicted to providing care to their alcoholic partner. If there are children involved, they may be tempted to copy the addicted parent, in turn becoming alcoholics or drug users themselves in the future. Because of this, therapy and counseling should be extended to all members of the family.

It is also important to treat a patient’s alcohol or drug addiction prior to attempting to fix any marriage problems. Typically, these individuals will feel the need to drink or do drugs without considering their partner’s or their children’s feelings at the time. There is also the chance that an alcoholic or drug user will also indulge in other, more painful habits, such as physically and mentally abusing others, while under the influence. For this reason, it is only when a patient has achieved sobriety that other issues can then be contended with.

Fortunately, there are plenty of support groups for those whose spouses or parents are alcoholics. Most notably, the group Al-Anon provides help and guidance for those who have been affected by a family member’s drinking habits. By simply sharing personal stories and experiences, those who are married to or are the children of an alcohol addict can find people who know what they are going through and who can empathize with them. There is also an offshoot of this group called Alateen which focuses on supporting teenagers who have had to live with an alcoholic parent or relative, and then helping them cope with this difficult situation.

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