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Young adults tending to a romance have less substance use

June 3, 2010 |  6:00 am

Marriage usually helps stabilize behavior. Studies show, for example, that people are less likely to use drugs and drink once wedded. The same behavior appears true of young adults in romantic relationships, according to a new study.

Love Researchers examined surveys of 909 people who were followed beginning in first or second grade up through two years after high school. They found the typical person of age 19 or 20 who not in a stable relationship was much more likely -- about 40% -- to use marijuana and drink heavily compared with someone who was in a relationship. The researchers controlled for other factors that affect drinking and drug use, such as employment status. The people who were not in relationships were less likely than their dating peers to have used marijuana or alcohol in high school, however.

"For these individuals, the new freedoms of early adulthood and lack of social control from a partner posed the greatest risks in terms of escalation of substance use," the authors wrote.

It could be that young people in relationships are getting support from their romantic partner that helps them avoid substances or that they are spending less time hanging out with substance-abusing friends or in bars.

"Even dating relationships activate mechanisms of support and control, although to a lesser extent than more serious relationship statuses of cohabitation or marriage," the authors wrote. "These findings show how bonding, adopting the behavior patterns of a partner and the interaction between these two processes influence substance use in early adulthood."

"I'm not saying that we should set up dating services," the lead author of the study, Charles Fleming, a research scientist at the University of Washington, said in a news release. "But it's something for parents to know and it's something for other people who are working with young adults of this age to know."

The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben  /  Los Angeles Times