Insecure attachment styles, relationship-drinking contexts, and marital alcohol problems: Testing the mediating role of relationship-specific drinking-to-cope motives

  • Levitt A
  • Leonard K
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Research and theory suggest that romantic couple members are motivated to drink to cope with interpersonal distress. Additionally, this behavior and its consequences appear to be differentially associated with insecure attachment styles. However, no research has directly examined drinking to cope that is specific to relationship problems, or with relationship-specific drinking outcomes. Based on alcohol motivation and attachment theories, the current study examines relationship-specific drinking-to-cope processes over the early years of marriage. Specifically, it was hypothesized that drinking to cope with a relationship problem would mediate the associations between insecure attachment styles (i.e., anxious and avoidant) and frequencies of drinking with and apart from one’s partner and marital alcohol problems in married couples. Multilevel models were tested via the actor-partner interdependence model using reports of both members of 470 couples over the first nine years of marriage. As expected, relationship-specific drinking-to-cope motives mediated the effects of actor anxious attachment on drinking apart from one’s partner and on marital alcohol problems, but, unexpectedly, not on drinking with the partner. No mediated effects were found for attachment avoidance. Results suggest that anxious (but not avoidant) individuals are motivated to use alcohol to cope specifically with relationship problems in certain contexts, which may exacerbate relationship difficulties associated with attachment anxiety. Implications for theory and future research on relationship-motivated drinking are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved). (journal abstract)

Author-supplied keywords

  • alcohol
  • attachment styles
  • drinking motives
  • marriage
  • romantic relationships

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  • Ash Levitt

  • Kenneth E. Leonard

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