Jealousy in a Romantic Relationship Can Lead to Alcohol Problems

Jealous people in low quality relationships are at higher risk of alcohol problems, suggests new study

Amsterdam, July 15, 2015

People who depend on their relationship to make them feel good about themselves are more likely to drown their sorrows if they believe their partner is cheating, suggests new research. The study, published in Addictive Behaviors, links romantic jealousy, relationship-dependent self-esteem and alcohol problems for the first time.

The authors of the study, from the University of Houston, US, say understanding the link between these three factors could help identify people at risk of alcoholism more quickly.

Excessive alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US, accounting for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults – around 88,000 deaths per year in the US, and 2.5 million deaths per year globally. Predicting alcohol problems means they can be prevented, and research has shown that using alcohol to cope with negative emotions is one of the strongest predictors.

“We all experience feelings of jealousy to some degree; many people are in relationships that are less than ideal, and use alcohol for different reasons,” said Dr. Angelo DiBello, lead author of the study. “Romantic jealousy is a shared human experience, but very little work has looked at how it is related to alcohol use, misuse and associated problems. This research helps to highlight the associations between these factors and show how our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are related in potentially harmful ways.”

Previous research has focused on the link between jealousy and alcohol use, and the link between jealousy and the quality of a relationship. This is the first study to look at three factors together – relationship-dependent self-esteem, jealousy and drinking – and provides an insight into how these factors affect the risk of alcohol problems.

For the new study, the researchers investigated how different types of jealousy affect the link between depending on a romantic relationship for self-esteem and having alcohol-related problems. 277 people (87% female) at a large southern university answered questions about how dependent their self-esteem is on their romantic relationship, the satisfaction, commitment and closeness in their relationship, their jealousy and their alcohol use.

The results reveal that people whose self-esteem relies on their relationship turn to alcohol to cope because of jealousy. These findings were especially true for people who are less satisfied, less committed, and report feeling more disconnected from their partners.

When a person’s self-worth is tied to their romantic relationship, the effect of negative events or emotions is magnified. The study shows that when this happens, believing their partner is cheating can lead people to use alcohol to cope.

“Given how common experiencing jealousy and being in romantic relationships are, this work helps to explain difference associations that may negatively impact an individual’s drinking,” said Dr. DiBello.

“I think it is important to understand the role romantic jealousy plays in the larger context of problem behaviors. Ultimately, I hope to use findings like these to support the development of prevention and intervention efforts among individuals who may struggle with alcohol, self-esteem and relationship issues,” added Dr. DiBello.

Read more on Elsevier Connect.


Article details:
The green eyed monster in the bottle: Relationship contingent self-esteem, romantic jealousy, and alcohol-related problems” by Angelo M. DiBello, Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Benjamin W. Hadden and Clayton Neighbors (doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.05.008). The article appears in Addictive Behaviors, Volume 49 (October 2015), published by Elsevier

A copy of the paper is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact Elsevier’s Newsroom at or +31 20 4853564.


About Addictive Behaviors
Addictive Behaviors is an international peer-reviewed journal publishing high quality human research on addictive behaviors and disorders since 1976. The journal accepts submissions on substance-related addictions such as the abuse of alcohol, drugs and nicotine and behavioral addictions such as compulsive gambling and internet excesses. The journal primarily publishes behavioral and psychosocial research but articles span the fields of psychology, sociology, psychiatry, epidemiology, social policy, medicine, pharmacology and neuroscience.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

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