People at risk for drinking problems are more likely to marry someone who's also at risk for alcohol dependence, according to a team of American and Australian researchers. "As they say, 'like marries like," first author Julia D. Grant, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a statement.

Grant and her colleagues studied almost 6,000 twins born in Australia between 1902 and 1964 and interviewed more than 3,800 of the twins' spouses.

"Spouse selection is not a random process, and we call this nonrandom mating. People tend to choose mates who are similar to them, not only from the same neighborhood or socioeconomic background but also alike in personality and other behaviors. We found that people at risk for alcohol dependence tend to marry others who are at risk," Grant said.

But researchers said this doesn't necessarily mean that both spouses will end up with drinking problems. In some cases, one spouse's excess alcohol consumption may actually lower the risk that the other spouse will abuse alcohol.

"We don't really know how this works," Grant said. "It is possible that an individual decreases his or her alcohol consumption in reaction to the other's excessive alcohol use. Maybe one person is responsible for getting the kids up and out for school in the morning, for example."

She noted that alcohol dependence is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, such as employment, interests, family and friends.

"There's lots of room for different factors to in- fluence the behavior of two people who are married. One spouse could work at a place where the coworkers go out for a drink after work. Or one spouse could be a regular churchgoer, while the other prefers to sleep," Grant said.

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