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Couples Who Share Drinking Habits Stay Together—And Live Longer

For many wine aficionados, sharing a glass or two with someone they love is one of life’s great pleasures. That can be especially true with a spouse or partner. A new study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in February in The Gerontologist, says that when both partners in a couple drink moderately, they tend to live longer.

Past research has shown that couples who share similar drinking habits report better quality marriages and stay married longer than couples whose drinking habits are dissimilar. What’s been unclear is whether couples whose drinking habits align also enjoy health benefits associated with that drinking. The new study is the first to link shared drinking habits in couples to longer life and better overall health.

Shared Drinking Habits and Longer Life

The study analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study that interviewed people over the age of 50 every two years, from 1996 to 2016. Researchers looked at almost 10,000 individuals over the age of 50 in different-sex couples who were married or lived together. By comparing couples’ drinking habits with rates of death over time, the authors found clear benefits of concordant drinking behaviors among couples.

Specifically, couples who reported both partners drinking in the past 3 months lived longer than couples who didn’t drink and couples in which only one partner drank. Light to moderate drinking—defined in the study as 8 drinks per week or less—was better than both heavy drinking and abstaining. Benefits were greatest for couples in which both partners drank a similar amount; this effect was particularly notable for women. Couples in which one partner drank and the other didn’t had the worst survival rate.

Older Adults, Alcohol and Health

The study’s findings surprised the researchers, who hypothesized that couples with concordant drinking patterns would have higher mortality rates, especially for men. That prediction was driven by a 2022 study, by the same team, that linked shared drinking habits in couples to higher blood pressure, especially among men.

The authors highlight the study’s focus on older adults, who can be especially prone to the harmful effects of alcohol, notably its interactions with medications and effects on certain diseases. But older people may also stand to benefit most from alcohol’s protective effects, particularly against frailty, cardiovascular disease and more.

Studies have also found that light to moderate drinking can improve socialization and mental and emotional well-being, which may help relationships. The authors note that “as couples age, spouses or partners may become more invested in having more compatible drinking behaviors that enhance their relationship, which in turn may benefit their health as they age.”

Study Limitations

Even though the researchers controlled for variables such as race, level of education and chronic health conditions, they acknowledge that other factors could have influenced the results, which do not establish causation. They also caution that though “concordant drinking status is associated with better health … higher levels of drinking can still be harmful.”

The study did not differentiate between types of alcohol and it relied on self-reported alcohol consumption. It also did not examine same-sex partnerships. Nor did it look at what people did while drinking and whether or not they actually drank together, or simply shared drinking habits but drank separately. The authors call for further study. “Future research should examine links between couple drinking patterns and daily marital and physical health processes as well as daily accounts of activity and whether couples are drinking alone or with others.”

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Source : https://www.winespectator.com/articles/couples-who-share-drinking-habits-live-longer-wine-and-health-study