Alcohol Abuse Is All in the Family But Not for Expected Reason

Alcoholism and love:

One of the more interesting findings to emerge from this analysis was that 38 percent of substance abusers had a spouse who abused substances, compared with only 12 percent of controls. In contrast, only 24 percent of individuals with signs of an anxiety disorder had a spouse who also appeared to have an anxiety disorder, which was comparable to the 20 percent rate for spouses in the control group.

So it looked as though substance abusers often were married to abusers and that the chances of this happening seemed to be greater than the chances of people with serious anxiety being married to spouses with serious anxiety.

But actually what were the chances? When the researchers undertook further analyses, they found that such a likelihood was significant: the chance of spouses of substance abusers also being substance abusers was eight times greater than the chance of the spouses of nonabusers being substance abusers. Moreover, this finding meshed with those of previous investigations that found an odds ratio for spousal concordance in substance abuse of between 3 and 12. In contrast, Low and her colleagues could find no spousal agreement for anxiety disorders. Previous inquiries that looked for such a link also failed to find one.

So if substance abusers are often married to substance abusers, the question is why. Low and her colleagues found that 71 percent of individuals who had substance abuse problems had developed them before “tying the knot,” and that 64 percent of spouses who abused substances had also done so before marrying the current partner. This finding implied that one abusing partner did not “infect” the other, but rather that there was something about their premarital status that brought them together. But what was it? A shared passion for alcohol or some other substance? A mutual expectation that heavy drinking or other substance abuse was a part of life, therefore making them feel at ease with each other? Perhaps, Low told Psychiatric News, but it is also possible that abusers may end up paired with abusers because nonabusers shun them as partners.

Not news to anyone familiar with the concept of a culture of addiction.