An Alternative for Alcoholics and Divorce

Fears for Children When Divorcing an Alcoholic

An Alternative for Alcoholics and Divorce

The thought of divorcing an alcoholic * is terrifying for so many reasons, but when one has children, it can be paralyzing.

Time and again I receive phone calls and emails from spouses expressing fears these:

“I am terrified to divorce because my children aren’t safe with him/her they drink.” 

“He drinks and drives all the time. How can I protect myself and my children financially – should I have a separate insurance policy?”

“How do I tell my 3 and 5 year old they’re not to drive with daddy – ever?”

“I’m having an impossible time trying to ‘do it all’ – work full time, drop off and pick up the kids, never leave them alone with her – but if I don’t stay with my kids 24/7 when they’re not in school, I’m afraid she might get drunk and think she’s safe to drive or start her crazy talk, which they don’t understand and then she gets mad at them for that. What do I do?”

Divorcing an Alcoholic? How do you tell your 3 or 5 year old they are never to drive with daddy and mommy is not “fine.”

[Please know the information in this post applies equally to divorcing an addict,* and please scroll to the end for a more thorough explanation of the terms, alcoholic / addict. And even if you’re not considering divorce but are trying to protect your children, this information can help.]

The Catch-22 of Divorcing an Alcoholic

The very real, justifiable fears shared above turn the non-alcoholic spouses into shrill, fear-filled, anxious, frantic people.

They become persons they were never before the insanity and were certainly never meant to be. They become the other half of this family disease and are often as equally confusing for their children to understand, because the alcoholic, they are not “there;” they are not consistently approachable, calm, warm and loving, with consistent reactions and actions that make sense to their children.

Instead, they, too, are in their own world — a world that takes on a life of its own as they try day in and day out to control the uncontrollable — namely, the brain of an alcoholic who is actively drinking.

I mean, really, how do you tell a 3 or 5 year old they are never to drive with daddy, or the real reason mommy is not “fine” even though that’s her pat answer when they ask, “Mommy, are you okay?” “Mommy what’s wrong?”

The concerns and fears shared above are those mothers, fathers and family law attorneys have expressed to me over the course of my work as author, speaker, consultant and founder of There was a time when they were my concerns, as well.

They are a big part of why I do the work I do, for when my daughters were young, I lived in constant fear of dying and leaving them to fend for themselves, and I lived in constant fear of staying. My repeated prayer was, “Please let me live until they’ve graduated high school and are enrolled in college.

” So in fear, I dug in and tried harder to control the uncontrollable. It was the ultimate Catch-22.

And why are we here in this Catch-22?

Because most people still view alcoholism as a shameful lack of willpower; most people are not aware of the 21st century brain and addiction related research that proves alcoholism to be one of the brain diseases of addiction, which is defined as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease.

And Let Me Be Clear

This post is NOT to bash alcoholics, many of whom I know to be kind, loving people when sober (or drunk, for that matter). And trust me, I’ve never met an alcoholic who is proud of what they’ve done while in their untreated disease.

Nor is it to bash parents myself.

Rather it is to shed light on the disease of alcoholism and how it hijacks families. It’s to help the alcoholic, the non-alcoholic, the judges, the family law attorneys, the doctor treating the non-drinker for depression instead of the “real” problem, the in-laws…; it’s to help all of us better understand we have a very BROKEN system.

This post is written for the sake of children, who are the innocent victims of our combined ignorance. And — who knows — perhaps in this process of getting to a better understanding, we can collectively help with fixing families along the way.

What to Understand for Children’s Sake If Divorcing an Alcoholic

This section applies equally to situations where one is choosing to stay with an actively drinking alcoholic.

  1. Clearly understand alcoholism as the brain disease it is. Check out: NIDA’s Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.  And understand what it takes to effectively treat it. Check out: NIDA’s Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment
  2. Review the The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. This was issued November 17, 2016, and goes a long way to debunking common myths about addiction, treatment, and recovery.
  3. Visit the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) website. There you can find a medical professional with an addiction specialization who can provide a medical evaluation as to the person’s current medical status in terms of their addiction recovery. Quoting from the website: “The American Board of Addiction Medicine provides assurance to the American public that Addiction Medicine physicians have the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize and treat addiction.”
  4. Know there are simple, anonymous assessments you can use to determine your spouse’s drinking pattern and thus what it is you are dealing with – alcohol abuse vs alcoholism. Check out WHO’s Alcohol Use Disorders Test (copy and paste this link in your browser if it doesn’t open here,
  5. Understand the non drinking spouse is deeply affected and needs to get their own help. For me, this was three years of therapy (mostly cognitive behavior therapy – CBT) with an addictions specialist (it is imperative it be a therapist who understands what happens to family members of addicts | alcoholics). I also attended Al-Anon for several years and then immersed myself in the research that’s become the basis of my blog, books and presentations.
  6. I urge you to read my latest book published in 2019 10th Anniversary Edition If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!! (2019) — not so I can sell books but so you can learn about the huge scientific advances that explains all of this in layman’s terms.

    Helps answer questions if divorcing an alcoholic OR wanting to stay in the relationship.

    The first half covers alcohol use disorders (drinking problems) – how they’re developed and treated and what long-term recovery requires.

    In the case of alcohol abuse, for example, it’s possible to learn to “re-drink,” but in the case of alcoholism, it must be total abstinence from alcohol, yet in both cases, there are other brain healing aspects necessary in order to address “why” a person finds themselves drinking to these extents in the first place (e.g., trauma, anxiety, depression, social environment…). As importantly for readers of this post, it explains why addicts/alcoholics lie, cheat, steal.
    The second half explains what happens to family members and friends and what they can do to help their loved ones, as well as what they can do to take back control of their physical and emotional health and the quality of their lives.This is the link to the Amazon version. It comes in both paperback and Kindle (which can be read on an iPad or other eReader device). With the Kindle format, you’re able to get it immediately, which may be helpful for right now, and it allows you to read it without anyone knowing, which may also be helpful. It is also sold by other retailers and available in some libraries, as well.

Please know…

I am happy to answer your specific questions. Send me an email at to schedule a phone call. There is no charge.


*alcoholic / *addict – about these terms… A great deal has changed over the years. Alcoholism (and other drug addictions) are now referred to as severe substance use disorders.

Though people with severe substance use disorders often self-identify (in 12 step meetings, for example) as alcoholics or addicts, in the treatment field, they are referred to as a person with a substance use disorder.

In other words, they are not their substance use disorder any more than they would be their cancer if that was the chronic disease from which they suffered.

This article more fully explains these concepts, “About the Terms Alcohol Abuse | Alcoholism |Alcohol Use Disorder” and applies equally applies to addict | drug abuse | drug addiction.

This post originally appeared under the same name in 2013. It was revised 2016, 2020 and today, September 27, 2021.  Many of the comments were submitted on older versions of this post.


Study: Divorce Increases Risk of Alcoholism

An Alternative for Alcoholics and Divorce

  • Previous studies have examined alcohol use disorder and divorce and separation among couples.
  • Recent research has found other correlative patterns involving alcohol use disorder and divorce and separation.
  • There are other therapeutic methods of dealing with divorce or separation than turning to alcohol.

After going through the arduous experience of a divorce, no one would fault someone for wanting to unwind and relax with the beverage of their choice.

However, it is important to understand the risks that people who go through the divorce process face before they open that can or pour that bottle.

A recent study was highlighted in the American Journal of Psychiatry and Forbes magazine, detailing how the link between divorce and alcohol abuse may be causal in other directions, than the notion that alcohol abuse increases the risk of subsequent divorce.

Social Science and Medicine Journal study

The most recent study is an interesting examination in comparison to previous research.

A previous study, published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, assessed the association between alcohol consumption and separation and divorce for 4589 married couples.

The researchers found that drinking status was positively correlated between spouses and that the correlation did not increase over the follow-up period.

They also found that any discrepancies in alcohol consumption between spouses were more closely related to the probability of subsequent divorce than consumption levels and that couples with two spouses that abstain from drinking, as well as couples with two heavy drinkers, had the lowest rates of divorce.

Subsequently, couples with one heavy drinker were more ly to divorce and that a history of problematic drinking by either spouse was not significantly associated with an increased probability of divorce.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs study

Another previous study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, examined the association among alcohol use disorder (AUD), stressful life events, and marital dissolution in adults.

They found that AUD and stressful life events predicted subsequent marital dissolution independently of other substance use disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Most recent study

The most recent study, done by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden, was done to clarify the magnitude and nature of the relationship between getting a divorce and being at risk for AUD.

The most recent study was an analysis of approximately 950,000 Swedes born between the years, 1960 and 1990, who had gotten married in or after 1990, as well as had no AUD diagnosis before getting married.

They found that after a divorce, the rates of first-time AUD increased sixfold in men and over sevenfold in women. These numbers took into account various factors, such as low parental education, prior problematic behavior, and familial risk of AUD.

The results showed that the increased risk for AUD onset began a few years before the divorce and was consistent with the holistic experience of the end of a marriage. However, the risk for AUD increased dramatically in the year of the divorce and remained elevated for many years in those who did not remarry for both sexes and across various age groups.

Speaking of remarriage, tying the knot once again had a protective effect for those at risk for alcohol abuse. According to the study, the risk for AUD was lowered when a divorced individual remarried. For many, the new marriage and the new life that that entails was enough to prevent their alcohol consumption from becoming a problematic behavior.

The researchers also examined AUD onset among twins, cousins, and siblings and found that the more closely genetically related people were, the weaker the relationship between divorce and AUD onset was, which means that at least part of the relationship between alcohol and divorce was due to familial factors causing both issues.

The research also found that divorce increased the risk for an AUD relapse for those who had previously battled alcoholism and that divorce produced a greater increase in first AUD onset in those with a family history of AUD or with previous problematic behaviors involving alcohol, or in those whose spouses did not have AUD themselves.

Finding other means of therapy

These studies indicate that those that battle the stress of divorce can often find themselves taking it out on their own body. They are looking to numb the pain of the experience with a common vice, and in moderation, alcohol consumption is perfectly fine and even found to be healthy by several studies.

However, overconsumption and binge-drinking can create problems and put others in danger in certain scenarios. The pain of losing a spouse or custody of children is understandable, but venting to a bottle is a one-sided conversation.

Seeking other means of therapeutic healing can cost just as much as running up a bar tab or a run to the liquor store, but it has the ability to manifest positive change for yourself, your children, and your future moving forward.

Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.

com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on Mr.

Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.

Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future.

He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.


What You Should Know About Divorcing an Alcoholic — Janet McCullar: Child Custody and Parental Alienation Lawyer

An Alternative for Alcoholics and Divorce

Being married to an alcoholic can present a lot of frustration and emotional suffering. Even though divorces are always difficult, many people who decide to divorce their alcoholic spouse say they feel a sense of relief because they no longer have to deal with someone who is addicted to alcohol. 

If you have decided to divorce your alcoholic spouse, there are several things you should think about and be aware of. As always, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Information About Alcohol Addiction

People have many definitions of what alcoholism is, but many medical and mental health professionals agree that alcoholism and other forms of addiction are due to an underlying disease. Such factors as genetic and environmental factors have an effect on how or whether the disease will develop in each individual person.

But to the average person, alcoholism appears to be linked to making poor life choices or having a weak moral character. This is only one of the reasons why alcoholic behavior is so confusing to many people, including the alcoholic themselves.

Self-defeating behavior is one of the main reasons alcoholics find it so difficult to seek out treatment.

For example, the alcoholic may tell themselves when they are sober that they just need to do a better job of managing their drinking or that they need to have more self-control.

Unfortunately, those thoughts disappear after the alcoholic has their first sip of an alcoholic beverage and the cycle of addiction goes back into motion. 

Additionally, alcoholics may find hard to get along with their employers, take care of their family members, or obey the law. Some alcoholics become obnoxious and abusive, both verbally and physically. 

In some cases, an alcoholic may have trouble even when they are sober, and their behavior may become more unpredictable. That’s why the problem of having an alcoholic spouse is rarely, if ever, solved – even when the alcoholic sets down the bottle. 

The effects of having the disease of alcoholism goes way beyond the alcoholic. Your alcoholic spouse may be causing problems for your children, close family, and friends. Many times, the children of an alcoholic will blame themselves as not being worthy of the alcoholic parent’s love.

Staying Safe During the Divorce

Because you are dealing with an alcoholic spouse, the emotional stress on you and your spouse during the divorce process may be elevated, and any altercation has the potential of getting physical. 

You must ensure that you are in a place where you and your children are safe. This can be accomplished by having your divorce attorney bring the issue of your spouse being an alcoholic to the family court when you file the initial divorce papers.

The family court may decide to issue a restraining order or an order of protection that bans your alcoholic spouse from bothering you and your children, wasting any of the marital funds, or destroying any marital property while your divorce is working its way through the court system. 

Alcohol Abuse and Family Law

If your spouse is an alcoholic, family courts look at substance abuse problems extremely closely to make the best decisions regarding your divorce and handling child custody matters.

The court has the ability to order random alcohol testing, whether or not your alcoholic spouse is seeking treatment.

Any adverse actions by your alcoholic spouse may be used by the courts when making decisions regarding your divorce or child custody.

In states that have no-fault divorce laws in place, you may have the right to file a fault-based divorce on the grounds of mental, emotional, or physical abuse, which could all be valid reasons if your spouse is abusing alcohol.

Additionally, if your alcoholic spouse has a criminal record, drug tests, and time in rehabilitation centers, the court may be reluctant to give them certain privileges.

When There Are Children Involved

When you decide to divorce your alcoholic spouse, child custody will become a key issue and could be a point of contention. When making any decision regarding the children, courts will want what they believe is in the best interest of the children.

In very extreme cases, the court will have no question regarding the safety of your child, because your child’s safety is threatened when they are with your alcoholic spouse. What type of custody is best for your child should be discussed with your divorce attorney.

When a court considers a parent’s alcohol use and/or abuse, they may require independent corroborating evidence of your alcoholic spouse’s behavior.

This may include police reports, child protective service reports, testimonies from public agencies or a non-profit organization, or reports from public agencies, In some cases, your divorce attorney may hire a substance abuse expert to provide a testimony to the court. 

Evaluator for Child Custody

If you are concerned about your child’s safety when they are with your alcoholic spouse, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator.

A child custody evaluator will spend a lot of time interviewing you, your spouse, and your child or children. They could even request to observe any interaction between your child, you, and your spouse.

They may choose to interview your child’s teachers and other professionals. 

Once this is completed, the evaluator will put together a report and present it to the court. This report will also include the evaluator’s recommendation for child custody.

It’s important to note that not every divorce involving an alcoholic spouse will have a child custody evaluator appointed. Whether you want an evaluation is something you should discuss with your divorce attorney. 

Custody with a Parent Who is an Alcoholic

If one parent is an alcoholic, this is of great concern to the courts. An alcoholic parent may not be able to make rational decisions or act in a way that is the best interest of your child. 

Because of this, it’s important that you are working with a knowledgeable divorce attorney who can represent your situation to the court when trying to reach a custody decision that is in the best interest of your child, and give your child the best possible protection if your alcoholic spouse is believed to be a threat.

If your spouse is an alcoholic or has other substance abuse problems, this can be held against them if it affects their ability to care for your child. However, many courts can offer an alternative solution so the child can continue to see both you and your spouse. These alternatives include:

  1. The alcoholic spouse may be allowed to visit with their child only when they are sober.
  2. The alcoholic parent may only be allowed to have supervised visitation rights.
  3. All overnight visits might be considered off-limits for the alcoholic parent.
  4. The alcoholic parent could be required to take regular or random alcohol and drug tests.
  5. The alcoholic parent could be ordered to go to a rehabilitation center, Alcoholics Anonymous, or another type of group geared toward resolving their addiction.

In some cases, the court could decide to terminate the alcoholic parent’s rights. This usually only happens in severe cases where the alcoholic parent’s addiction has caused the child to be harmed in some way or they have been unable to follow the rules set down by the court regarding their child.

Addiction and Property Division and Spousal Support

Most courts around the United States will attempt to divide all of your marital assets equally and in a fair manner. However, if your spouse has wasted your marital funds to support their addiction, the alcoholic spouse may be penalized when the marital property is divided. The same goes for any alimony/spousal support.

The court may award you more spousal support if your alcoholic spouse spent an unfair share of your marital assets. This decision could be reversed, however, if your alcoholic spouse’s problems are connected to a health issue and they require financial support to help with any treatment they may require both during and after your divorce is finalized.


Divorcing your spouse who may be dealing with alcohol or drug addiction can be challenging. You may have to deal with more arguments and extremely complex legal issues. It is vital to work with a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney who can advise you on the best outcome for you and your family when divorcing a spouse who has alcoholism or addiction issues.


Longitudinal Prediction of Divorce in Russia: The Role of Individual and Couple Drinking Patterns

An Alternative for Alcoholics and Divorce

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Aims: The aim of the study was to explore associations between dimensions of alcohol use in married couples and subsequent divorce in Russia using longitudinal data.

Methods: Follow-up data on 7157 married couples were extracted from 14 consecutive annual rounds (1994–2010) of the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, a national population-based panel study. Discrete-time hazard models were fitted to estimate the probability of divorce among married couples by drinking patterns reported in the previous survey wave.

Results: In adjusted models, increased odds of divorce were associated with greater frequency of husband and wife drinking (test for trend P = 0.005, and P = 0.05, respectively), wife's binge drinking (P = 0.05) and husband's heavy vodka drinking (P = 0.005). Couples in whom the wife drank more frequently than the husband were more ly to divorce (OR 2.

86, 95% CI 1.52–5.36), compared with other combinations of drinking. The association between drinking and divorce was stronger in regions outside Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Conclusion: This study adds to the sparse literature on the topic and suggests that in Russia heavy and frequent drinking of both husbands and wives put couples at greater risk of future divorce, with some variation by region and aspect of alcohol use.

Alcohol use in Russia is a major public health concern (Leon et al., 2009), but little is known about the potential adverse effects of alcohol on drinkers' immediate families and households. This paper tries to fill the research gap by investigating the longitudinal relationship between alcohol and divorce in Russia.

Alcohol in Russia

Together with a high annual per capita alcohol consumption (∼15–18 l (Leon et al., 2009)), the drinking pattern in Russia is particularly hazardous. A high proportion of total alcohol is drunk as spirits, up to 75% in some studies (Pomerleau et al., 2005; Popova et al., 2007), and research consistently finds that over half of men are binge drinkers (Nilssen et al., 2005; Perlman, 2010).

Alcohol use is normalized and incorporated into everyday life, and there is high tolerance for heavy episodic drinking with the intention of intoxication (Saburova et al., 2011). Heavy drinking is more common in youth and middle age, among those with low education, the unemployed and those in poorer households (Bobak et al., 1999; Tomkins et al., 2007; Perlman, 2010; Cook et al., 2011).

However, the biggest disparity is by gender: men drink more frequently, more as spirits and are more ly to binge drink (Bobak et al., 1999; Malyutina et al., 2001; Bobrova et al., 2010).

Heavy drinking is considered more socially acceptable for men and is perceived to play an important role in male social life, professional life and stress management (Mustonen, 1997; Pietilä and Rytkönen, 2008a).

Divorce in Russia

Russia has long had one of the highest divorce rates in Europe. Between 1960 and 1995, the crude divorce rate quadrupled (Avdeev and Monnier, 2000) and has fluctuated considerably since the 1990s.

The fact that obtaining a divorce is quick, simple and free (Antokolskaia, 2002) may partly explain the high divorce rate, but micro-level factors are also important.

In Russia, divorce is associated with young age, length of union, frequent migration, childlessness, experience of parental divorce and premarital conception (Jasilioniene, 2007; Muszynska and Kulu, 2008), but few studies consider alcohol as a potential risk factor, despite the high prevalence of hazardous drinking.

Divorce and Alcohol

Outside of Russia, many cross-sectional studies find an association between drinking and divorce, both at individual (Hasin et al., 2007; Joutsenniemi et al., 2007) and aggregate levels (Caces et al., 1999).

However, in order to understand the direction of causation, longitudinal data are necessary. A small number of longitudinal studies have found that heavy drinking predicts subsequent divorce (Leonard and Rothbard, 1999; Collins et al.

, 2007), and increased marital dysfunction (Marshal, 2003).

The contribution of alcohol to family disruption in Russia has been discussed, but only a few studies presented interpretable data on the topic (Stack and Bankowski, 1994; Carlson and Vagero, 1998; Taitz, 2005; Osadchiya et al., 2008).

Since the Soviet period alcoholism has been a commonly cited reason for divorce (White, 1996; Osadchiya et al., 2008). Drinking is perceived to be a leading cause of couple conflict (Vannoy et al.

, 1999; Pishnyak, 2009) and increases the risk of domestic violence (Cubbins and Vannoy, 2005; Lisova, 2008; Stickley et al., 2008; Zhan et al., 2011).

The only study we have found that investigated drinking and divorce, specifically (Stack and Bankowski, 1994), was a cross-sectional analysis, similar to other studies (Taitz, 2005; Tomkins et al., 2007). To date, no longitudinal studies of the topic have been conducted in Russia.

In previous studies, discordant couples, where one person drinks more than the other, have been found to have the highest risk of dissatisfaction, disruption and conflict (Ostermann et al., 2005; Homish and Leonard, 2007; Meiklejohn et al., 2012).

It is not known whether the same pattern operates in Russia where couple drinking pattern discordance is the norm, and is commonly attributed to cultural notions of masculinity and femininity (Pietilä and Rytkönen, 2008b). Drinking is considered part of the male breadwinner role, something that ‘real men’ do.

By contrast, wives' household and childrearing responsibilities prevent heavy drinking, and women who do so may be negatively perceived (Bobrova et al., 2010).

Wives may help to maintain their husband's masculine role by providing alcohol with meals (Pietilä and Rytkönen, 2008b), giving them money for alcohol and bringing alcohol to them if they are sick or disabled (Saburova et al., 2011).

It is common for wives to try to informally control their husband's drinking, but this is also a source of conflict (Holmila, 1987). Such acceptance of heavy drinking on the part of wives may mediate any relationship between drinking and divorce, creating a weaker association in Russia than in other populations.


In this paper, we examine longitudinal associations between drinking patterns and subsequent risk of divorce in a sample of Russian couples. Firstly, we explore how variations in individual spouse drinking frequency and volume are associated with probability of subsequent divorce; secondly, whether spousal drinking discordance is associated with subsequent divorce.


The analysis uses the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS) (Higher School of Economics et al.

, 1992–present), a Russian household panel survey started in the early 1990s to monitor the effect of political transition on health and well-being.

The study was primarily designed as a repeated cross-sectional survey dwelling but the design permits longitudinal analysis. We used the data from phase 2 (1994–2010, waves 5–19).

Full details on RLMS design and sampling are available on the website ( At the beginning of phase 2 (1994), a three-stage probability sample was chosen. The final sample consisted of 4718 dwellings, of which 84.3% completed interviews (lower in the Moscow/St.

Petersburg regions (60.2%)). According to the RLMS survey team, the population sampled in wave 5 (1994) compared well with the 1989 census population in terms of distribution of household size, sex, age and urban-rural residence.

Divorce rates in the RLMS were slightly lower than national rates, but followed the same pattern over time.

The units of analysis were married couples, identified as such through the household roster, but only included if both reported being married and both had completed individual interviews.

On this basis, ∼20% of couples were excluded. Both spouses were linked to their follow-up data from the next wave.

If follow-up data for either party were missing, their spouses' data about their marital status were used to ascertain the outcome.

Outcome: divorce

An event (divorce) was defined if both parties reported their marital status as divorced. There were 94 cases of spousal disagreement about divorce, and sensitivity analysis was carried out where disagreeing couples were included in the event group.

Main exposure: alcohol consumption of both spouses

At each wave, participants were asked about drinking frequency, beverage types they consumed and the maximum daily volume of each beverage consumed in the 30 days before interview. The drinking information collected in each wave was used as the exposure variable for the follow-up period ending at the next wave.

Frequency of drinking was categorized into groups: abstained/2–3 times a month/weekly/2–3 times a week/4+ times a week. We also derived a ‘drinking pattern’ variable which classified individuals into binge drinkers, non-binge drinkers or abstainers.

Binge drinking was defined as consuming >80 g of ethanol from a single type of beverage on a single occasion, a cut-off used in previous studies in Russia (Malyutina et al., 2001; Bobak et al., 2004). The third variable was the usual amount of ethanol consumed from spirits in a single episode, divided into fifths for simplicity.

Spirit consumption has been previously used in Russia as an indicator of heavy drinking (Bobak et al., 1999; Pomerleau et al., 2008). This was done for men only, as female spirit consumption was very low.

Respondents were asked how many grams of ‘vodka or other hard liquor’ they usually consumed in a day, and this was converted into grams of ethanol, assuming an ethanol concentration of 0.43 or 43% by volume.

The distribution of grams of spirits was skewed to the right, and the range in the 5th percentile was 10–100 g and in the 95th percentile was 550–3000 g. A minority (1%) reported usually drinking over 1000 g a day; we excluded respondents who said they drank >4000 g in a day on the basis of implausibility (2 cases). We also considered beer and wine consumption using the same method.

Two constructed categorical variables represented spousal drinking concordance.

Drinking frequency concordance had four groups: neither frequent drinkers (where frequent drinking was at least twice a week), wife frequent drinker and husband not; husband frequent drinker and wife not or both frequent drinkers. The same was done for drinking pattern concordance but with binge drinking instead of frequent drinking.

Other variables

From previous studies (Lyngstad and Jalovaara, 2010), several factors were identified as potential confounders. However, many of these, such as employment, could be on the causal pathway. We included these in the model but took care in interpreting the effects of adjustment.

All covariate data were self-reported and taken from the start of each interval. We included individual level variables for both spouses (age, education, employment, life satisfaction, economic security and health status) and couple-level variables (shared biological children and household income). A binary variable identified whether the couple had resident young (


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