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

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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Latest Study Reports Some Drinking During Pregnancy May Be Okay

When I was pregnant with each of my three children, I did not drink any alcohol during my first trimester. The first twelve weeks of the baby’s development were the most crucial I learned, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that. But my doctor told me it was okay to drink a small amount of wine thereafter, so I gingerly sipped an occasional glass of wine without worry. I know that many people refuse to take even a sip of alcohol during those nine long months. But that wasn’t me. And it wasn’t one of the essayists in our forthcoming anthology, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up (Seal Press, Sept 2012), who wrote how her British obstetrician recognized the all-or-nothing American attitude and was quite comfortable with her patients drinking every once in a while.

Now, the pregnant women of the world who’d like to have a guilt-free, occasional glass of wine can perhaps do so (emphasis on perhaps). The results of a series of research studies from Denmark, published in the BJOG Journal, suggest that “low to moderate weekly drinking in early pregnancy  had no significant effect on neurodevelopment of children up to five years, nor did binge drinking.”

The study focused on children’s intelligence and found no differences in test performance between the children whose mothers consumed up to 8 drinks a week during pregnancy, compared to children whose mothers did not drink any alcohol. There was, however, one result that surfaced associating a lower attention span in five year old children whose mother drank more than 9 drinks per week. These children were also found to be at a risk nearly five times higher of having a low IQ compared to children of nondrinkers.

The research was drawn from 1,628 Danish women and their children–almost a third of all Danish women who were pregnant during the span of years from 1997 to 2003. The average age of the women was 31; fifty percent were first-time mothers; 12 percent were single; and 31 percent said they smoked during their pregnancy. In all of the studies, the researchers controlled for a variety of factors that may potentially affect a child’s brain development, such as maternal intelligence and smoking.

An important point to note–and highlighted in the journal article–is that a drink in these studies is defined by the the Danish National Board of Health and is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a drink can vary greatly from country to country, however, and in the United States there are 14 grams of pure alcohol in a standard drink. This is the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor, according to Rethinking Drinking, a website covering alcohol and health.

In a statement, the study’s authors said, “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5. However, despite these findings, additional large scale studies should be undertaken to further investigate the possible effects.”

Though some women may feel relieved to learn about the latest study results, it is unlikely the new information will quell the controversy surrounding drinking during pregnancy, as many doctors continue to warn against potential disorders that the study may not have considered. “I would still caution women about drinking during their pregnancies,” Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. “There may be subtle neurobehavioral changes that were not picked up in the study.”

“Although it’s still best for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, these results suggest that small amounts may not be a serious concern,” said HealthDay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still urge women not to drink at any time while pregnant, says Dr. Jacquelyn Betrand, who represents the CDC and served as co-author of three of the studies: “This study doesn’t change our recommendation.”

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Will My Kid Be an Underage Drinker because of Ads on TV?

My 11-year-old son watches a ton of sports on television. Weekday evenings (after his homework is done, of course) and weekend afternoons are often spent surfing from basketball to baseball and back again. If there’s a tennis match or horse racing on, he may watch that too. With all the game and tournament coverage, however, come a constant stream of commercials—a great number of which are for the likes of an ice cold Bud, Michelob, or Coors Light.

So do watching, singing along with and remembering these frequent beer and booze advertisements mean he is more likely to drink alcohol as an adolescent? Apparently, yes, that’s a distinct possibility, according to a new study reported in Science Daily.

In the study, conducted at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people ranging from 15 to 20 years old about their exposure to alcohol, if they had a favorite alcohol ad, and if they owned alcohol-branded merchandise, among other behaviors.

After being shown 20 images from the most popular TV ads for alcohol, with the brand names removed, the participants were then asked if they remembered the ads, liked the ads and knew about the products being advertised.

The results showed that 59 percent of underage kids drank alcohol. Of those who drank, 49 percent had engaged in binge drinking (had more than six drinks in a row) at least once the previous year. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was much higher among the drinkers than nondrinkers, and having alcohol-branded merchandise or having a favorite alcohol ad was linked to more hazardous drinking.

“Underage drinking remains an important health risk in the U.S.,” said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “In this study, we have shown a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol advertisements and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns.”

I have to admit, I’ve never paid much attention to the product when my son calls me over to watch his favorite commercial of-the-moment. It’s usually the witty tune or humor that he’s urging me to notice. But after learning about this study and its results, I may encourage him to take a bathroom break or go grab a snack when the game on the screen is interrupted for a commercial break.

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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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