They say that love heals the heart, but now it appears that it may heal a whole lot more. A new study has found that young adults who are fresh out of high school are less likely to drink heavily and use drugs when they are romantically involved. The data is in line with previous research indicating that people who are married have a lower likelihood of drinking in excess and smoking marijuana, thus supporting the value of personal relationships.

While the findings, which were published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, are not an outright declaration to join a dating service, they are an important consideration for parents as well professionals who work with young adults.

Researchers examined information gathered on children starting from the first or second grade through adolescence until two years after high school. The makeup of the study population was mostly white (80%) and 54% male. After adjusting for relevant factors like employment status, scientists found that when a person was not in a relationship by their late teens or later, they were 40% more likely to smoke marijuana than a person who was romantically involved. Romantic involvement was defined as dating but not living together.

Interestingly, those individuals who were not in a relationship by ages 19 and 20 smoked less and drank less than their “romantically involved” friends during their high school years. It was after they graduated from high school that they began their excessive consumption patterns.

Why exactly this behavior occurs is not clear, though for many of us, it may actually make sense. After all, when two people are romantically involved, they tend to be happier because they are with someone who cares about them and gives them emotional support. Relationships also require some degree of self-sacrifice and time commitment, potentially removing a person from circumstances that may predispose them to alcohol and drugs, including parties and bars.

The findings are particularly relevant in that they apply to a people who are entering a stage in their lives where alcohol abuse increases along with the experimentation of cigarettes and marijuana, all of which can lead to dependency. With this in mind, it is important to gain a better understanding of what might precipitate these circumstances with the goal of preventing them.

There is a possible downside to the equation, however. Studies have found that when a someone is involved with a person who is a heavy drinker or drug user, it actually increases the likelihood that they, too, will become one, as well. The key message may therefore be that not just any relationship will lead to healthy lifestyle choices, but rather healthy relationships.