The increase in risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in a married individual following a diagnosis of alcoholism in the other spouse is “large and rapid,” according to researchers writing recently in JAMA. The causes of this association remain unclear.
Population-wide Swedish registries were used to identify individuals born in Sweden between 1960 and 1990 who were married before the end of study follow-up on December 31, 2013. The study included 8562 marital pairs with no history of AUD registration prior to their first marriage and an AUD registration in 1 spouse during marriage and 4891 individuals with multiple marriages whose first spouse had no AUD registration and second spouse did or vice versa. Final statistical analyses were conducted from August 15 to September 1, 2017.
Results: Among the 8562 marital pairs (5883 female probands and 2679 male probands; mean [SD] age at marriage, 29.2 [5.7] years) in first marriages, the hazard ratio of AUD registration in wives immediately after the first AUD registration in their husbands was 13.82, which decreased 2 years later to 3.75. The hazard ratio of AUD registration in husbands after the first AUD registration in their wives was 9.21, which decreased 2 years later to 3.09. Among the 4891 individuals with multiple marriages (1439 women and 3452 men; mean [SD] age at first marriage, 25.5 [4.2] years), when individuals transitioned from a first marriage to a spouse with AUD to a second marriage to a spouse without AUD, the hazard ratio for AUD registration was 0.50 (95% CI, 0.42-0.59) in women and 0.51 (95% CI, 0.44-0.59) in men. After a first marriage to a spouse without AUD, the hazard ratio for AUD with a second marriage to a spouse with AUD was 7.02 (95% CI, 5.34-9.23) in women and 9.06 (95% CI, 7.55-10.86) in men. These patterns were modestly attenuated when moving from second to third marriages. Controlling for AUD registration prior to first marriage or between first and second marriages produced minimal changes in risk.
Conclusions and Relevance: The increase in risk for AUD registration in a married individual following a first AUD registration in the spouse is large and rapid. When an individual with serial spouses is married, in either order, to partners with vs without an AUD registration, the risk for AUD registration is substantially increased when the partner has an AUD registration and decreased when the partner does not have an AUD registration. These results suggest that a married individual’s risk for AUD is directly and causally affected by the presence of AUD in his or her spouse.