The later you get into your 20s, the more you notice a peculiar divide forming: some of your friends drop off the face of the Earth to get married and fill a suburban house with infant versions of themselves, while others only seem to venture deeper into a Good Time Charlie lifestyle marked by one-night stands, cocaine, and countless rounds of shots with their bartender friends. While some young people seem content to permanently affix themselves to a couch with Netflix and hold hands with bae, others are far more interested in happy hour margarita deals and after-hours 30-packs.
Sure, that's just part of growing up. People fall on the wayside in both directions. But a new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia has found that marriage could be what steers people away from their heavy-drinking days.
As the study acknowledges (and most everyone knows), people tend to go a little buck wild after their 21st birthday, with binge-drinking and borderline-alcoholic behavior being pretty much ubiquitous (a lot more 22-year-olds wake up in bushes covered in vomit than 52-year-olds, for instance). Researchers refer to the process of getting a fucking hold of yourself and severing your ties with Natural Ice as "maturing out." For obvious reasons, they generally align with taking on responsibilities—a new job, a non-fuckup significant other, a high-maintenance enclosure of temperamental sugar gliders.
But the information gleaned through the new study suggests that getting hitched can be a major factor in reducing one's drinking, even for people with "severe" drinking problems. Does that mean that betrothing yourself to that devastatingly handsome but incredibly troubled friend-of-a-friend will lead to him quitting his habit of drinking 40s every afternoon? Not necessarily. But it does have implications that could help people in real-world ways.
Researchers analyzed data from an existing long-term study of familial alcohol disorders that was conducted at Arizona State University, delving into changes in participants' drinking habits between the ages of 18 and 40 and how they shifted when and if the subjects got married. (Roughly half of the people studied were children of alcoholics.)
What the study found was that "marriage not only led to reductions in heavy drinking in general, [but also that] this effect was much stronger for those who were severe problem drinkers before getting married."
Part of the explanation: "role incompatibility theory"—in other words, that the demands of being a decent husband or wife conflicts with the demands of being wasted out of your mind all the time. Researchers are hoping that this principle can assist in identifying and helping people with problematic drinking, as well as inform public health policies as they develop.
How could this help problem drinkers, exactly? Matthew Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri, explains it thusly: "The theory suggests that if a person's existing behavioral pattern is conflicting with the demands of a new role, such as marriage, one way to resolve the incompatibility is to change behavior."
In other words, unless you don't want to end up in the doghouse or get divorced, you'd best chill out on the vodka when your spouse tells you to. And maybe that theory can be applied in other ways to help even non-married people who can't seem to cool it on the bottle.
But if you and your beloved want to get sloshed on piña coladas together every Tuesday, that's always an option, too.