Background: Women who marry men with alcohol-use disorders (AUDs) might have unique characteristics that could affect the clinical course of their partner's AUD and the risk for problems in the offspring. Most data available on spouses of such men come from subjects in treatment, which might bias results to more severely impaired individuals. Our data were gathered as part of a prospective study of an original sample of 453 sons of alcoholics and controls who were originally selected as students or nonacademic staff at a university.
Methods: Personal interviews were performed with 327 women who were married to men who had been personally evaluated on multiple occasions over the prior 15 years. The data compare characteristics of the 235 women (71.9%) whose husbands had never developed alcohol abuse and dependence with the 92 (28.1%) for whom these disorders had been documented.
Results: The women who married men with an AUD were less likely to be homemakers, were more likely to meet criteria for alcoholism (especially abuse) themselves, were more likely to report use of illicit substances, and to be current smokers. However, spouses of men with AUDs in this highly functional sample had no higher risk for other major psychiatric disorders and did not report a higher rate of alcohol abuse or dependence or psychiatric conditions in their parents.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate increased risks for the use of illicit substances and for AUDs in women married to alcoholics, despite the overall high level of functioning of the sample. This information may be relevant to enhancing our understanding of the environment in which their offspring are being raised. The descriptive aspects of the work might also help researchers and clinicians working with alcoholic families.