April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a moment to reflect on a curious dichotomy between how wedlock affects the drinking habits of husbands and wives.  Long term marriage leads women to drink more — and men to drink less — than before they tied the knot.  At least that’s the suggestion of an analysis of longitudinal data from 5,305 men and women interviewed over the course of 6 years at different points in their marriage.

The results show that married men consume fewer drinks compared to their single, divorced or widowed peers. On the other hand, women consumed more drinks than those recently widowed. Now before you go jumping to the conclusion that wed women are simply drowning the aggravations of marriage in their martinis, the more likely cause for the disparity is that spouses are simply conforming to their mutual habits and the circumstances of married life. Men are spending fewer nights out drinking with the boys (another reason to hug hubby this Husband Appreciation Day, April 20th). Since men, in general, consume more alcohol than women, their wives’ uptake in tippling is attributable to their tending to match their husband’s habits.

How do these factors impact health? While excessive drinking raises risk for both genders — higher stroke risk, bigger waistlines,  lasting brain damage and liver disease to name a few — the female brain is even more vulnerable to the ravages of alcohol abuse. Moreover, even moderate drinking raises women’s risk of breast cancer, particularly among younger women of reproductive age. Finally, everyone’s ability to metabolize declines with age — with regular drinking in the golden years aggravating nutrient deficiencies, as alcohol intake can deplete levels of folate, B6 and omega-3. If habitual drinking has you worried, try developing new habits, like switching to non-alcoholic beer, which beats booze on health benefits, or drinking grape juice, which also has those red wine benefits of increased HDL cholesterol, without the health risks.

Published April 1, 2013