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Alcohol and Marital Violence

Couples who argue a lot during their first year of marriage are more likely to have violence erupt in later years if the husband is a heavy drinker and the wife is not, a new study says.

Dr. Brian M. Quigley of the Research Institute on Addictions, State University of New York at Buffalo and his associate Kenneth E. Leonard focused on the relationships between husband violence, marital conflict, and the couple’s drinking patterns in the first three years of marriage, in research now called the Buffalo Newlywed Study.

“We wanted to see if drinking at early stages predicts violence later on. We know that drinking is used as a way to cope with emotions or depression associated with violence, but that’s not the whole story,” Quigley told reporters.

“As it turned out, the couples in which the husband was a heavy drinker and the wife not were most at risk for experiencing violence,” said Quigley. That could be a result of arguments over the amount consumed, money spent on alcohol, legal problems or lack of intimacy, he said.

The researchers used questionnaires and interviews in a three-year study of 414 couples. They found that violence in the first year of marriage predicted whether more violence would take place in the next two years.

Arguing About Drinking

Even when no violence occurred in the first year, how much the couple argued predicted the extent of violence in future years. Violence was also more likely to happen over the course of the marriage when couples argued a lot.

How much the husband drank before marriage also affected whether violence would occur in the first year of marriage, but the amount both the husband and wife drank during the first year predicted violence in the second and third year.

“It is probable that these inappropriate drinking patterns lead to conflict in the marriage. The conflict may be over the drinking itself or over problems associated with the drinking, for example, hangovers, loss of jobs, legal problems,” Quigley told Reuters Health.

But couples who rarely argued or had verbal conflict in the first year of marriage, were much less likely to have violence in later years, whether the husband was drinking or not.

Charlotte A. Watson, executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said “It’s not alcohol which causes violence. There are men who batter sober, there are men at the other end, who batter when under the influence. Domestic violence has a lot to do with the notion of power and control, and who’s got power and who’s obeying.”

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