Relationship Quality and Alcohol-Related Social Reinforcement During Couples Interaction

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Individuals who are unhappy in their intimate partnerships are at risk for developing alcohol problems. But little is known about the mechanisms underlying this link. One possibility is that couples with poor relationship quality gain more reinforcement from alcohol in certain contexts—a possibility that has never previously been empirically examined. In the current study, 304 individuals (152 couples) were assigned to receive alcohol (target BAC.08%) or a nonalcoholic beverage. They then engaged in a conflict-resolution interaction with their partners. Videotaped interactions were coded by trained observers. Results revealed a significant interaction between alcohol and relationship quality across multiple measures. Alcohol decreased negative behaviors, decreased negative reciprocity, and enhanced self-reported experience to a greater extent during interactions involving individuals reporting low relationship quality and had comparatively little effect among those reporting high relationship quality. Findings point to a potential mechanism underlying problem drinking among couples with poor relationship quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-84
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • alcohol
  • couples
  • relationship adjustment
  • relationship quality
  • social interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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