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Romantic relationships reduce alcohol abuse, study finds

A new study suggests that people genetically prone to alcoholism benefit from living in committed relationships.

Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

The study (siirryt toiseen palveluun), which drew on the longitudinal Finnish Twin Study (FinnTwin12), found that being in a romantic relationship reduced the association between genetic predisposition and drinking.

Results indicated that being in a relationship reduces drinking among both sexes. However, for high‐risk drinking, the protective effect was limited to males, who tend to drink more than women. Studies have often suggested that men draw more health benefits from romantic partnerships than women.

Genes and environment

Scientists from the United States, Finland and Turkey collaborated on the study.

"Social context plays a role in whether genetic predisposition for alcohol misuse is expressed," Peter Barr from Virginia Commonwealth University told the Finnish News Agency STT via email.

Barr said the study can help bridge the gap between genetics and social science.

“We can’t fully understand one without the other,” he added.

But how exactly do relationships prevent excess drinking?

According to Barr, relationships offer emotional support, giving people less of a reason to drown their negative feelings in alcohol.

Relationships also carry an element of social control as partners tend to monitor each other’s behavior and will likely say something if their other half is drinking too much, explained public heath professor Jaakko Kaprio from the University of Helsinki.

"It’s easy for single guys to go pub hopping with friends, but men in a relationship are more likely to cut the evening short by saying they promised to be home by 11pm," Kaprio added.

Relationships also carry certain expectations, according to the scientists. Alcohol misuse doesn’t fit into the framework of being a good partner or parent, they said.

In the future, Kaprio said he would like to see similar studies include people from different parts of the world to help determine how well the findings apply to broader populations.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Addiction, examined interview and genetic data of 1,200 Finnish people between the ages of 20 and 26, who are part of the Finnish Twin Study, which aims to tease out environmental and genetic influences on traits.