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Spousal choices can influence the risk of developing alcoholism

  • Alcohol dependence (AD) is more common among partners of alcoholics than among partners of non-alcoholics.
  • A new study examines two kinds of spousal similarity for influence on AD risk: assortative mating (like marries like), and reciprocal spousal interaction (an individuals behavior directly influences his/her spouses behavior).
  • Assortative mating is reflected in an increased frequency of spousal AD; but spousal interaction seems to protect against spousal AD after accounting for assortative mating.
Alcohol dependence (AD) is more common among partners of alcoholics than among partners of non-alcoholics. A new examination of spousal similarity for alcohol consumption and AD risk reveals that while one type of association, assortative mating, results in an increased frequency of AD in partners, another type, spousal interaction, may diminish AD risk for spouses.

Results are published in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"We know that AD runs in families, and that genetic influences explain about 50 percent of the variation in risk for AD," explained Julia D. Grant, research assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. "Not surprisingly, spouses are positively correlated for AD. Our goal was to better understand the processes that may explain this association."

Grant, who is also the studys corresponding author, explained that the commonly used phrase, "like marries like," describes assortative mating, a type of behavioral similarity by which individuals seek partners with whom they share certain characteristics. Another process that she and her colleagues examined is called spousal interaction, in which an individuals drinking behavior has an impact on his or her partners drinking behavior.

"Phenotypic assortment for alcoholism risk is part of a much larger phenomenon, having deep evolutionar
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23-Apr-2007


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