Women who marry alcoholics

  • Women who marry alcoholics may have unique characteristics that influence their partner's drinking.
  • One study compares the characteristics of women who married alcoholic men with those of women whose husbands did not develop alcoholism.
  • Women who had married alcoholic men were less likely to be homemakers, and were more likely to smoke, misuse alcohol, and use illicit drugs themselves.

Researchers know that both genetic and environmental influences contribute to the development of alcohol-use disorders (AUDs). One pivotal environmental force in the life of an individual with an AUD may be their spouse. A study in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines women who are married to alcoholics to determine if they possess unique characteristics that may influence their partners' AUDs and/or have an impact on the risk for problems in their offspring.

"I'm in the business of trying to understand genetic and environmental contributors to alcoholism," said Marc A. Schuckit, director of the Alcohol Research Center, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and corresponding author for the study. "I can't interpret what happens to the offspring of male alcoholics - I can't understand their childhood, environment or even their genetic background - without understanding as much about the mother as I do about the father."

Researchers conducted personal interviews with 327 women who were the original spouses of 453 subjects of the 20-year-old San Diego Prospective Study (97% of the families continue to participate). Characteristics of the 235 women (71.9%) whose husbands had never developed alcoholism were compared with the 92 women (28.1%) whose husbands had developed alcoholism.

The women who had married alcoholic men were less likely to be homemakers, were more likely to meet criteria


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