Couples Use Alcohol to Enhance Intimacy

Couples who drink alcohol often do so together. Whether it is sharing a bottle of wine over dinner or having a few drinks at a social gathering, research suggests that couples who drink together have more intimate and satisfying relationships than those who drink apart. But why is that? What motivates a person in a relationship to join their partner in social drinking? Ash Levitt of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo in New York wanted to find out if expectations of alcohol use, and specifically, whether conceptions that drinking will enhance relationship elements, are related to alcohol use among intimate partners.

In a recent study, Levitt examined data from 470 married couples and evaluated their drinking behaviors over the first nine years of their marriages. He looked at what motivated the men and women to drink with their spouses, and what led them to drink apart from them, and how these behaviors affected overall relationship satisfaction and realization of expectancies. He found that both men and women expected to have more social and intimate interactions with their partners when they drank together. This was not the case when they merely drank in the company of their spouse, but only when they drank with their spouse. In other words, each partner believed drinking would enhance their intimacy and closeness; therefore, they drank with that expectation and those expectations in turn increased the motivation to drink.

Levitt also found that when partners drank apart from one another they had more relationship conflict and higher levels of dissatisfaction. Power expectancies also contributed to this effect. When partners felt the need to battle for power, they were more likely to drink apart than with each other. In contrast, the partners who drank together did not have as many power struggles. Levitt noticed that, in addition, women held slightly higher expectations of intimacy. This led to increased instances of drinking for the women, but not for the men. The findings of this study demonstrate the reciprocal effects of alcohol expectancies in romantic relationships. “The current results suggest that couple members drink together more because of certain positive expected effects of alcohol and that doing so positively reinforces these expectancies,” said Levitt.

Levitt, A., and Leonard, K. E. (2012). Relationship-specific alcohol expectancies and relationship-drinking contexts: Reciprocal influence and gender-specific effects over the first 9 years of marriage. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030821

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  • brad


    January 21st, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    maybe its the shared experience and the sense of bonding that it provides.back in college my girlfriend and I used to smoke pot together and that served as something of a shared activity for along really well with her.and in fact we are planning to get married later this year.

    please no “pot-hate” here,just sharing an experience with regard to the topic.

  • Greta


    January 22nd, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    My husband and I have a glass of wine with dinner every couple if nights, no big deal, but it is never about that I feel like I have to drink to feel close to him. It is just an enhancement to a good night’s dinner, that’s all. That’s what it should be, not used as a tool to control each other or to even feel like we have to have it to feel intimate with one another. I think that if it is used like that then that takes all the fun and enjoyment out of it!

  • fredrick


    January 22nd, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    “couples who drink together have more intimate and satisfying relationships than those who drink apart.”

    this is because couples that drink apart usually do so to ‘escape’ from each other and usually as a coping tool. on the other hand having a drink together means you are taking part in social gatherings together or are enjoying each other’s company – a definite sign that the relationship is doing well.

  • ALEC


    January 22nd, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    @Greta: Spot on! It should not become something that is necessary for intimacy nor should it become something that is the sole reason for you and your partner to have a nice time. It should be under your control, you should not be under its control!

  • Greta


    January 23rd, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    Thanks Alec! It can never be a substitute for real love and intimacy, and if you find that you HAVE to drink to get intimate with someone, you might want to take a step back so that you can see a little more clearly that this is probably not the right person for you.

  • marston


    January 24th, 2013 at 12:08 AM

    had a girlfriend back in college who only wanted to drink and get intimate.yes,immature days,but as expected the relationship didn’t last.alcohol was the only reason we were together so to speak.not going to make that mistake again!

  • Taylor


    July 15th, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    The studies are correct. I am a moderate to heavy regular drinker. I have often found women who are the same. However, when they have gone on a health kick or changed their pattern for some reason, my consitency has caused a great many fights and they have made demands that i change. Then, the relationship implodes in slow motion as they have used the fact that i am drinking as a lever for everything from why they havent gotten a job to why they dont clean up after themselves. Ironically, they return to the drinking pattern they had when they started with me shortly after the breakup, and find a new guy and the cycle repeats.

    I lived with a woman who didnt really drink at all, and it was horrible. She did nothing but sit on the couch and mope, and whenever there was a dispute she would try to take the win by pointing at my drinking. She even blamed the state of the house on my drinking when i was out of town every two weeks for the weekend and working long hours during the week. How my drinking was to keep her from cleaning up after herself when i was basically gone for 12 days out of 14is beyond me.

    I am seeing this recovering alcoholic now. I have even curbed it all down to light drinking and abstain when shes around. All i hear about is alcohol and AA steps and shes moody all the time. It feels like im talking to my AA sponsor sometimes and grates on the nerves.

    There is a girl i met who drinks like me. We get along great. Because of all these problems in the initial dating phasesi actually talked with her about drinking habits and we seem on the same page. She holds down a great job as director of nursing for a major hospital.

    Im an investment banker so i hold down a decent job too.

    Maybe ill take the advice in this research, ditch the unstable but sweet girl in recovery and go for the drinker. Im right sick with women who are either wet blankets from the start or bait and switch once they get you hooked.

    Theres nothing wrong with sitting down and having a few drinks with someone you love, even getting drunk together occasionally. There is something wrong with sitting with your partner having a few to unwind on a friday and watching and hearing her judge you like shes some superior being.

    I dated this one girl once who was a great match for my drinking pattern and we would have 20 hour dates. We would sit and talk about everything under the sun, have great sex and good food. Those were great times, im still in touch with her to this day and would love to date her again when her career is more settled.

    The naysayers of this study are a bunch of self styled anti alcohol zealots. It is not promoting alcoholism it is recognizing a direct correlation between similar drinking patterns and relationship longevity. If the amount of education similarity was the case, they would not be saying anything but good.

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