Have you ever poured a drink or two to relax and wind down after a long day at work? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, studies show a link between working long hours and increased alcohol consumption. While this may not be dangerous in moderation, there is growing evidence that a risky level of drinking often goes hand in hand with a demanding work schedule.
This article examines the risks and consequences of work-related drinking, and what you may be able to do about it.
In an analysis of 61 studies involving more than 330,000 individuals in 14 countries, researchers found that people who work longer hours are more likely to drink too much alcohol.
Employees who worked over 48 hours weekly were 13 percent more likely to engage in high risk drinking than their peers who worked 35-40 hours per week. The phenomenon was observed equally among men and women, geographic locations, various age groups, and income levels.
This is bad news for Americans, with almost 40 percent of full-time workers putting in 50 or more hours weekly, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
The Finland-based researchers who performed this analysis defined risky drinking as 14 drinks weekly for women and 21 for men. In the United States, the definition is eight drinks per week for women and 15 for men. Regardless of how you measure it, however, there appears to be a clear relationship.
Cause or Correlation?
The researchers claimed only an association between long hours and risky drinking, not that longer hours directly cause excessive drinking. However, they speculated on several ways in which a demanding work life might encourage excessive alcohol use:
- Depression and sleep issues are linked to both increased alcohol consumption and long workdays.
- Competitive jobs requiring long hours may have a culture that encourages heavy drinking.
In addition to these, some employees may also use alcohol as a mental and physical painkiller. Drinking may serve as a way to ease the transition from work to home.
Regardless of the exact reasons, however, there is a clear connection between working more than 48 hours a week, and drinking at an unhealthy level. And drinking more to cope with a demanding work life can generate a dangerous feedback cycle.
Stress and Alcohol
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that both men and women who report higher levels of stress tend to drink more. Unfortunately, the NIAAA states, excessive alcohol use takes a “psychological and physiological toll on the body” that can compound the effects of stress.
This means that if you are drinking to reduce work-related stress, it may actually be having the opposite effect. Alcohol can cause impaired decision-making, poor performance, more sick leave, and even workplace injuries. Each of these in turn can increase stress, and consequently increase drinking.
Therefore, even if alcohol seems to ease stress from work, in the long run it usually worsens the problem.
In recent years, the argument has emerged that Americans are overworked—that American culture actually encourages and rewards overworking. Hard work is viewed as honorable. However, pushing ourselves too hard can result in depression, stress, problems with sleep and health, and strained relationships.
Now, studies also show a connection between working longer hours and excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is known to make all of the above problems worse, as well as increasing the risk of cancer, stroke, liver disease, heart disease, and mental disorders.
If drinking to wind down after work develops into alcohol dependence, it can therefore become a catalyst for larger health issues, in addition to aggravating the problems it is meant to solve. Working long hours may sometimes be necessary or worthwhile. However, it is important to find alternative methods of managing stress and exhaustion.
If you need support to curb work-related drinking, or improve your relationship with alcohol, Ria Health may have a solution for you. Our telemedicine-based program makes use of recovery coaching, prescriptions to reduce alcohol cravings, and digital tools to track your progress. The whole thing can be accomplished from your smartphone, so you can get help for alcohol dependence without disrupting your busy schedule.