Police everywhere are worried about the rise of binge drinking among young women. Recently I watched a television news item on attempts to control weekend drunkenness and violence in an English town, and most of the film showed young women trying to beat the lads at the own game.

Why has this problem got so bad? An answer occurred to me when I read about a study looking at the links between marriage and mental health. The study, led by New Zealand clinical psychologist Kate Scott and using WHO international data, found that, among the whole sample of women and men, regardless of marital status, women were more likely to experience depression and anxiety disorders than men, who were more likely to succumb to substance abuse.

Marriage (first marriage), however, reduced the risk of substance abuse still further for women.

Dr Scott said this could be explained by the fact that women are usually the primary caregiver for young children. A number of international studies have shown that women’s consumption of alcohol dropped sharply when they become pregnant, and this restraint often continued into early childcare.

But we know that many young adults are delaying marriage into their 30s. This means, among other things, more years of drinks with the girls and boys after work, more clubbing, more bingeing… And, what the 20-somethings are doing, the teenagers are sure to copy. That’s my theory. It would be interesting also to see the data on drinking and smoking (and illicit drugs) for pregnant women who are married compared to those who are not. I suspect there would be a difference.

The study in question certainly showed that women and men in their first marriage had significantly lowered risks of developing most mental disorders compared to the never-married. Married men were protected even more from depression and panic disorder.

However, being separated, divorced, remarried or widowed (compared to being stably married) was associated with an increased risk of all disorder onsets in men and women — particularly substance abuse for women and depression in men.

This study corrects the frequently heard allegation that, in terms of mental health, men benefit more from marriage than women. Says Dr Scott:

“What our study points to is that the marital relationship offers a lot of mental health benefits for both men and women, and that the distress and disruption associated with ending marriage can make people vulnerable to developing mental disorders.”

* “Gender and the relationship between marital status and the first onset of mood, anxiety and substance use disorders,” by K.M. Scott et al, Psychological Medicine, Cambridge University Press 26 Nov 2009

 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet