The purpose of this study was to examine the association between partner alcohol problems and selected physical and mental health outcomes among married or cohabiting women, before and after adjusting for potential confounders, and to compare these associations with those reflecting the impact of the women's own alcohol-use disorders (AUDs).
This analysis is based on data from the Wave 1 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a cross-sectional, retrospective survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults 18 years of age and older. The analytic sample consisted of 11,683 married or cohabiting women. Classification of their own AUDs was based on self-report of symptoms operationalizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. Current partner alcohol problems were identified by the women after an explanation that recapitulated the essence of these criteria. Physical health measures included criminal victimization of any type, injury, emergency-department and hospital visits, self-reported fair or poor health, and Short Form-12 Health Survey Questionnaire, Version 2 (SF-12v2), -based physical quality of life. Mental health measures included DSM-IV mood and anxiety disorders, number of past-year stressors, and SF-12v2-based mental/psychological quality of life. All measures refer to the 12 months immediately preceding the interview. Associations were tested using bivariate and multivariate logistic and linear regression models.
At the bivariate level, women whose partners had alcohol problems were more likely to experience victimization, injury, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and being in fair or poor health than women whose partners did not have alcohol problems (odds ratio [OR]: 1.7-4.5). They also experienced more life stressors and had lower mental/psychological quality-of-life scores. All but one of these differences remained significant after adjusting for potential confounders, which included the significantly greater rates of substance use and AUDs among women whose partners had alcohol problems. Although the magnitudes of the ORs decreased after adjustment (adjusted OR [AOR]: 2.1-3.4), they generally exceeded the AORs associated with the women's own AUDs.
Partner alcohol problems pose diverse health threats for women that go beyond their well-documented association with domestic violence. Mood, anxiety, stress, general health, and quality-of-life problems should be addressed by groups that provide couples' treatment or counseling to female partners of alcoholics.