A new study has found that people who rely on their relationship for self-esteem often turn to alcohol when they become jealous. The research, published in Addictive Behaviors, is the first to show the connection between romantic jealousy, relationship-dependent self-esteem, and alcohol problems.
The researchers from the University of Houston say that understanding the link between these three factors could help identify people at risk of alcoholism.
“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.”
Prior studies have focused on the association between jealousy and alcohol use, or the link between jealousy and the quality of a relationship. This is the first research to investigate all three factors together — relationship-dependent self-esteem, jealousy and drinking — and provide insight into how these factors affect the risk of alcohol problems.
For example, the researchers looked at how different types of jealousy affect the link between two factors: relying on a romantic relationship for self-esteem and having alcohol-related problems.
A total of 277 participants (87 percent 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 findings show that those whose self-esteem depends on their relationship turn to alcohol to cope with feelings of jealousy. This was especially true among 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. In turn, when that person thinks his or her partner is cheating, there is a strong risk that alcohol will be used as a coping mechanism.
“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 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.”