Alcohol Use Disorder and the Loss of a Spouse

According to a recent study, the loss of a spouse due to divorce or death might be associated with an continuing risk of alcohol use disorder (“AUD”). According to the report’s authors, Kenneth Kendler, M.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University and colleagues:

“The pronounced elevation in AUD risk following divorce or widowhood, and the protective effect of both first marriage and remarriage against subsequent AUD, speaks to the profound impact of marriage on problematic alcohol use and the importance of clinical surveillance for AUD among divorced or widowed individuals”

The report is based on the records of close to a million married persons in Sweden. The study found a association with both a risk of a first AUD occurrence as well as AUD relapse, with a higher correlation in families with an AUD history, among other things. It also found a substantial decline in first AUD occurrences after divorce followed by a remarriage.

Widowhood also increased AUD risk in both sexes (hazard ratio of 3.85 in men and 4.10 in women). In women, widowhood had a stronger association with risk for future AUD if the spouse did not versus did have a lifetime history of AUD (hazard ratio of 3.69).

“These results suggest that it is not only the state of matrimony and the associated social roles that are protective against AUD. Rather, they are consistent with the importance of direct spousal interactions in which one individual monitors and tries to control his or her spouse’s drinking. A non-AUD spouse is likely to be much more effective at such control than a spouse with AUD.”

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