Adverse health risks associated with long work hours has been well documented. Multiple studies on this topic have pointed to various health conditions that are shown to be present among workaholics, such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
A new study out of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, sought to answer the question of whether long work hours contribute to risky alcohol use. The team, headed by Marianna Virtanen, states that, “To date, there has been no systematic quantification of the link between long working hours and alcohol use.”
The study sample
The study encompassed a cross-sectional meta-analysis of various studies involving 333,693 adults from 14 countries. Meta-analysis is a powerful tool used to study specific associations because it is based on a wider range of participants, a larger sample size and more events than an individual study.
According to the author of the study, the working hypothesis is, “Individuals whose working hours exceed standard recommendations are more likely to increase their alcohol use to levels that pose a health risk.” To date, the U.S., through the Fair Labor Standards Act, has not yet provided recommendations for the number of hours an employee can work each week. In contrast, the European Union has established a limit of 48 work hours per week.
Using the baseline of 55 hours of work per week as being harmful for health, and including the European Union Directive of a recommended limit of 48 hours a week, the categories used in the study were:
- <35 hours
- 35-40 hours (considered the typical full-time load)
- 41-48 hours
- 49-54 hours
- >55 hours
Also studied were the associations between long hours and alcohol behaviors based on gender, socioeconomic groups, different geographical areas and age.
The findings, published January 13, 2015, demonstrate a direct relationship between working long hours and alcohol abuse. Risky use was defined as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men. No significant associations were dependent on gender, age socioeconomic status or geographic region.
The study showed that long working hours might increase risky alcohol use by up to 13 percent, and supported the position taken by the European Union Working Time Directive that working more than 48 hours per week could be detrimental to health. At-risk alcohol use can lead to various health conditions such as liver disease, stroke, seizure disorders, heart disease and some cancers.
For people who work long hours, reasons for higher alcohol consumption abound. One possibility is that the long work day does not allow for enough down time between work and sleep, so alcohol provides a way to quickly decompress. Sleep problems caused by excess stress and workplace demands could also exacerbate drinking levels in an effort to fall asleep or stay asleep. Lack of leisure time due to work commitments can lead to depression, which might be self-medicated by alcohol. Intense workplace cultures, where “work hard, play hard” attitudes lead to and support heavy alcohol use, can also contribute to risky behavior.
In the higher socioeconomic groups, working long hours is common. Hard-driving and highly educated professionals expect this kind of dedication to the job, and many who strive to climb the corporate ladder will make this sacrifice. Although the willingness to work long hours can result in promotions and salary increases, it can also set the stage for alcohol abuse.
The consequences of employees working excessive hours can be quite serious if it culminates in increased use of alcohol. Risky alcohol use can have adverse effects on employees in the form of absenteeism, poor work performance, compromised customer relations, serious health problems, impaired decision making and workplace injuries.
Sovereign Health Group of California is an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider, offering several locations in our home state in addition to centers in Utah, Arizona and Florida. For more information on treatment for drugs and alcohol, please call (866) 629-0442.
Written by Eileen Spatz, Sovereign Health Group writer