Marrying young increases risk of a drinking problem in later life

Getting married before the age of 21 raises the risk of developing a drinking problem in later life, study shows

  • Academics assessed the marital status and alcohol habits of 937 people
  • Previous research that found marriage protects against risky alcohol use
  • This research found those who married young were at a much higher risk of binge drinking in later life

Getting married young might seem romantic, but a study has found those that tie the knot before the age of 21 are more likely to develop a drinking problem. 

Academics assessed the marital status and alcohol habits of around 1,000 people who were genetically predisposed to developing a form of alcoholism. 

The results reveal that those who married young were at a much higher risk of binge drinking in later life than those who got married at a more mature age. 

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Getting married young might seem pragmatic, but a study has found those that tie the knot before the age of 21 are more likely to develop a drinking problem (stock image)

Previous studies have found that marriage can protect against alcohol abuse, but the new study suggests this is only true for older people. 

Getting married young is now highly uncommon in the UK, with less than 1,700 people getting betrothed as a teenager in 2019. 

This is in stark contrast to the middle of the last century, with more than 60,000 Britons getting married before their 20th birthday in 1950. 

British women now get married, on average, aged 35 while men don’t get hitched until 38, according to official statistics. 

British teenagers are among the most-likely in Europe to binge drink and suffer sleep problems, while many are hooked on social media, a major report warns. 

The number failing to get a proper night’s rest has risen significantly, a World Health Organisation study into child mental health found.

But in more positive news, they are at the top of the league for brushing their teeth twice a day. 

Youngsters in England, Scotland and Wales were generally satisfied with their lives.

They were less likely to drink alcohol, smoke or eat sugary snacks than in previous surveys.

But since 2014, data suggests there had been a significant decline in eating breakfast in almost half of the countries involved.

Rebecca Smith, a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US, an author of the study, said: ‘In a sample of young adults, we found that marriage was not uniformly protective against alcohol misuse. 

‘In fact, we found that early marriage (i.e., by age 21) seemed to exacerbate risk for alcohol use among individuals with a higher genetic predisposition.

‘Thus, early marriage does not have the same protective benefit in terms of attenuating genetic predispositions that has been observed for marriage later in adulthood.’

The researchers believe the correlation can be explained by considering the various factors that young people face when compared to older couples. 

Heavy episodic drinking — also known as binge drinking — may well be higher in young couples because ‘individuals who marry young may not be the best influences on one another’, says Ms Smith.     

‘When we stepped back to think about what we know about development and developmental psychology, our findings made more sense,’ she said. 

‘Traditional life events, such as marriage and parenthood, tend to occur during certain periods in life.

‘So when those types of events occur either earlier or later in life than is typical (in American culture), they may not be as protective as we would expect.’  

The research is due to be published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

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