Marriage Leads to Women Drinking More and Men Drinking Less

couple_champagneDoes your husband drink less than before you walked down the aisle? Do you consume more? According to a recent study, married women drink more alcohol than divorced or recently-widowed women–apparently because they live with husbands who simply consume more.

On the flip side, the study revealed that married men consumed the least alcohol–compared to single, divorced and widowed men–due to their wives’ lower levels of drinking. Men were also more likely to turn to drinking after a divorce than women.

After reading the study’s findings, I had to stop and think about what it was like for my husband and me before we got married, a whopping 23 years ago. When I think back, it does seem feasible that we were drinking wine more frequently–I’m happy with a glass or two, he prefers to polish off the bottle–after we said “I do.” I’m sure he pounded many more beers when out with buddies than he did at home with me, and while I had my share of happy hours with friends, they were not a daily event.

While research has been done on the drinking habits of single and married people, the study, conducted by sociologists from University of Cincinnati, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University and the University of Texas at Austin, is the first to look at alcohol use among the never-married, the divorced and the widowed, says an article on LiveScience.com.

The researchers reviewed survey data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to explore trends in the relationship between marriage and alcohol. They also analyzed data from two in-depth interview studies, the Marital Quality Over the Life Course Project, conducted between 2003-2006, and the Relationships and Health Habits Over the Life Course Study, conducted between 2007-2010.

“Stable marriage curbs men’s drinking yet is associated with a slightly higher level of alcohol use among women,” the authors wrote. “Our qualitative findings suggest that being married to a man who is more likely to drink creates a new social environment that may promote drinking among women,” lead researcher Corinne Reczek, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, told LiveScience.

So in the marriage category, we can see how a woman may be influenced by her guy’s greater consumption level and he by his wife’s avoidance of a beer belly. But when it comes to divorce, it’s different coping mechanisms that seem to cause men to consume more booze than women on average. “Some research suggests that men are more likely to cope with stressors in ‘externalizing’ ways (i.e., alcohol use), while women are more likely to cope in ‘internalizing’ ways (e.g., depression),” Reczek wrote.

I hope not to find myself in the never-married category, but I imagine there can be some complicated outcomes that arise from the intersecting influences of relationships and alcohol. “Men who fail to converge with their wives’ drinking habits in marriage may set a trajectory towards divorce and continued heavy drinking,” wrote the study authors, “while men who converge with their wives’ lesser drinking habits may set trajectories towards lower overall consumption and sustained marriage.” So it seems that men would be smart to take their wife’s lead on the lighter boozing front–apparently one step in the direction of a successful marriage.

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Drinking in College May Lead to the Hookah

college kids smoking hookahDecades before Miley Cyrus revealed to college-age women everywhere that the hookah, or water pipe, is the latest must-have accessory, I found one prominently placed in my childhood home. I was 15 and had just returned from a summer at sleepaway camp. In my absence, my parents had traveled to Turkey where they purchased said hookah and displayed it proudly in our home’s lower level, not far from the billiard table. I suppose they thought it was a cool visual—I honestly don’t believe it was ever used for anything other than viewing.

Fast forward 30 years, and now it’s me, my husband and our children walking the streets of Istanbul. Hookahs are sold and smoked everywhere—as a matter of fact it’s not a strange sight to see people of all ages smoking the tobacco (much of it is flavored–pineapple? vanilla anyone?) from a hookah while playing chess in outdoor cafes.

It never occurred to me to smoke from a hookah, and I never imagined my kids would want to–or even have the opportunity. But obviously, I wasn’t keeping up with the times. According to new research from the Miriam Hospital’s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, almost one quarter of college women try smoking tobacco from a hookah for the first time during their freshman year. Did I mention my daughter just finished her first year of college?

The study, which was published online by the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal, revealed a potential link between hookah smoking and alcohol and marijuana use. An article from Science Daily reported that “researchers found the more alcohol women consumed, the more likely they were to experiment with hookah smoking, while women who used marijuana engaged in hookah smoking more frequently than their peers.”

The problem is that many college students believe mistakenly that smoking from a hookah is safer than cigarettes. Hookahs, however, have been linked to lung cancer and other diseases similar to those brought on by cigarette smoking.

“The popularity and social nature of hookah smoking, combined with the fact that college freshmen are more likely to experiment with risky behavior, could set the stage for a potential public health issue, given what we know about the health risks of hookah smoking,” said lead author Robyn L. Fielder, M.S., a research intern at The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, in the article on Science Daily. Fielder says the findings corroborate prior research showing strong correlations between hookah and other substance use, but their research is the first to show that alcohol and marijuana use are prospectively related to hookah initiation.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), consisted of a survey of 483 first-year female college students and asked about their hookah use before college, followed by 12 monthly online surveys about their experience with hookah smoking. Of the 343 participants who did not report precollege hookah use, 79 students (or 23 percent) tried smoking a hookah during their freshman year.

As a parent, the concern is naturally that your kid is going to try this or that because that’s what other kids are trying. Hookah smoking seems a lot more enticing, I imagine, to many students who see cigarettes as outdated–and practically verboten in every public place anyway. But if they do a little research, they’ll learn that hookah smoking is not exactly a new phenomenon and originated in ancient Persia and India.

I have not asked my daughter yet if she’s come across any hookah-smoking parties at school. But with this new research, I’m inclined to ask. I’m not sure I’ll bring her to my parents’ house anytime soon, however, for fear that she’ll see their imported hookah and ask if she can bring it back to school for her sophomore year.

 

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Do Angry Women Choose Alcohol?

angry womanWe all have all our moments/hours/days (years?) of feeling angry. Recently, I’ve made an effort to raise my irritation threshold, and have worked hard to not let a hard day or stressful event surrounding work, family, dogs, etc.–be an excuse for pouring myself a glass of wine. Sometimes it works, and I may take a walk to clear my head or venture to a quiet corner, close my eyes and meditate for 15 minutes or until the anger passes. But on the odd occasion, I’ll succumb to the booze instead, which after only a few sips has a way of taking the edge off ever so gently, burying the anger for a short period of time.

Research has proven a strong association between anger and drinking, and now, a recent study conducted by psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, shows that anger and alcohol mix a little too easily for many women.

During the study, a group of 30 women were split into two groups. Researchers purposely irritated one of the groups by asking them to complete impossible puzzles while mocking them for their incompetence. Afterward, the women were asked to sample different kinds of ginger ale and beer in what they thought was an unrelated taste test. The results? The women who’d been angered drank nearly twice as much beer than their unruffled counterparts. Hmmmm. Wouldn’t you?

“Women are less likely than men to express their anger assertively, and suppressing that irritation results in built-up tension,” explains study author Nora Noel, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. “Many women (and men) view alcohol as a way to help relieve that tension.” The problem is that turning to alcohol instead of finding healthy ways to express yourself doesn’t end well for anyone.

So what to do about it? Identifying that you have a tendency to drink when you’re pissed off is the first step, according to Dr. Noel. The next step is learning healthier ways to control your anger—or release it—to help curb a desire to turn to liquid ways of coping.

While meditation has been helpful for me, other ways to stave off the anger without reaching for the bottle are exercise, writing, and talking to a friend. “Expressing anger assertively means speaking up for yourself and letting others know when you’re uncomfortable,” says Dr. Noel. Venting to a friend is a proven way to help lower your levels of anger-fueled tension, she says.

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Could It Be True–Women Who Drink May Gain Less Weight?

I will never forget when a friend of mine, then on Weight Watchers, told me she was counting wine as her fruit points. “You know,” she said trying to justify her decision, “wine is made of grapes, so why not?”

In an effort to lose weight, dieters often lower their intake or cut alcoholic drinks from their diet–a glass of wine or a cocktail can carry not just a buzz but also plenty of calories. Recent research suggests, however, that women who consumer moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are less likely to put on weight than abstainers and are at a decreased risk for obesity.

A study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tracked 19,220 American women aged 39 or older who, at the start of the study, fell into the “normal weight” category based on their body mass index. About 60 percent of the women, whose drinking habits were studied over 13 years, were light or regular drinkers, while about 40 percent reported drinking no alcohol.

In an article on the nytimes.com Well blog, Tara Parker-Pope explained that over the course of the study, 41 percent of the women became overweight or obese. “Although alcohol is packed with calories (about 150 in a six-ounce glass of wine), the nondrinkers in the study actually gained more weight over time: nine pounds, on average, compared with an average gain of about three pounds among regular moderate drinkers. The risk of becoming overweight was almost 30 percent lower for women who consumed one or two alcohol beverages a day, compared with nondrinkers,” she writes.

Unfortunately, it seems that every other week there is new and conflicting information about drinking and health, which is undoubtedly confusing for many. Moderate drinking is associated with lowers rates of heart disease, yet it is also shown to increase breast cancer risk.

Based on the study’s results, I wouldn’t suggest women head to the bar thinking they’ll lose weight. As Parker-Pope writes: “Other research shows that once a person is already overweight, her alcohol metabolism is more efficient, and so an overweight woman may gain more weight from alcohol than a lean woman. The data do, however, suggest that for many women facing weight problems, the extra calories are probably not coming from alcoholic beverages.”

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Bracing for the Tour de Franzia

A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from the dean at my daughter’s university. It wasn’t an update on the blooming cherry blossoms or the latest award-winning professors, but rather a serious warning.

In an effort to prevent any alcohol-related disasters, the dean’s letter asked parents to discuss the dangers of an event that takes place on campus each spring called the “Tour de Franzia.” I read on.

Apparently, the event involves teams of students drinking a box of Franzia—a 5-liter box holds the equivalent of 42 drinks—while going to various campus locations. Sounds like an intense, drunken scavenger hunt to me.

The dean urged parents to discourage students’ participation in this Springtime tradition, only three years old. Needless to say, the worries are many—from intoxicated students crossing busy streets to alcohol poisoning.

And the consequences go beyond the college campus and into the surrounding community. He writes: “A dramatic number of students required hospitalization for acute intoxication or injuries, flooding the emergency room at [the local] hospital and disrupting its normal operation.  Many of these students had potentially lethal blood alcohol levels.  Although our principal concern is the safety and well-being of students, we were also dismayed by significant damage and vandalism, numerous complaints from neighbors living adjacent to campus, and disrespectful treatment of the Public Safety officers and other staff who attempted to monitor and address concerns that arose during the event.”

Does the dean really believe that parents have that kind of influence with their college age children?

When my daughter returned home for Spring Break, I mentioned the letter—a warning e-mail was also sent to students—and asked her what she thought about it. Let’s just say that her reply made it clear she is indeed looking forward to the upcoming Tour.

But what so many college kids don’t realize is not only how dangerous these extreme drinking events can be, but also that binge drinking costs the health care system half a million dollars in blackout-related emergency room visits each year at the average large university, according to newly published research reported in U.S. News on msnbc.com.

In a report published in the  journal Health Affairs, Marlon P. Mundt and Larissa I. Zakletskaia surveyed nearly a thousand students at five universities. During a two-year study, 30 percent of the men and 27 percent of the women visited the emergency department at least once, some with major injuries like broken bones and head or brain trauma. Of the 404 emergency visits reported by 954 participants in the study, about one in eight were associated with blackout drinking, the researchers found.

Mundt and Zakletskaia called binge drinking that can lead to a blackout–usually defined as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks by men or four by women during one occasion–“a pervasive public health problem” among college students.

“Fifty percent of college students who drink report alcohol-induced blackouts, and alcohol abusers in general put a heavy burden on the medical care system,” they wrote.

So while I imagine the Tour de Franzia will carry on as it has in recent years–despite the warnings and urging of the college administration–I imagine that every parent will pray it goes without the serious incident that these statistics suggest.

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