Men's and women's drinking habits could provide hints about their risk of being in a violent relationship, a new study suggests.
Men who regularly drank at parties at their friends' houses were more likely to be violent toward their partners, researchers found.
On the other hand, women were more violent when their husbands and boyfriends frequently drank at home.
What might explain those patterns still isn't clear, lead researcher Christina Mair, of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, wrote in an email.
"Perhaps," she said, "men who drink frequently at parties are surrounded by others who share more permissive norms about (intimate partner violence), and they get riled up while at the party, then go home and hit their wife."
The study couldn't show whether people were under the influence when they acted violently, however.
Mair and her colleagues interviewed more than 1,500 married or cohabitating opposite-sex couples in California. They asked each partner separately about drinking habits over the previous year and about instances of physical, sexual or psychological harm in the relationship.
About six percent of couples reported male-to-female partner violence and close to 10 percent reported female-to-male violence.
In general, men who drank often were more likely to be violent toward their partners and to be victims of violence. Women who drank large amounts of alcohol in public places were also more likely to be violent.
The results, published in Addiction, are a reanalysis of data released last year by the same group in the Journal of the Study of Alcohol and Drugs.
Each year, millions of Americans are victims of intimate partner violence, or IPV. Women account for about 85 percent of victims, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
"A great deal of research over the past few decades has established that alcohol use is a contributing cause of intimate partner violence," Dominic Parrott, a psychologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said.
Kathryn Graham, a senior scientist for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said the new findings are difficult to interpret.
"It is an interesting question whether certain drinking contexts have higher risk of IPV over and above how much alcohol is consumed in these contexts," she told Reuters Health.
But the data do not indicate how much of the partner violence actually involved drinking, said Graham, who wasn't part of the research team.
"It is important to understand that data from this one study probably aren't sufficient to change our prevention or treatment efforts to reduce alcohol-related intimate partner violence," Parrott, who also wasn't involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.
He said if future research replicates these findings, the collective data could be used for prevention.
For example, people who want to drink alcohol could be encouraged to seek out low-risk contexts rather than high-risk contexts, Parrott said.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.