Working long hours may be associated to an increased risk for alcohol abuse. According to a new study in the BMJ, employees who worked more than 48 hours a week were more likely to drink to excess than those who worked 48 hours or less.
“These findings suggest that some people might be prone to coping with excess working hours by habits that are unhealthy, in this case by using alcohol above the recommended limits,” said study author Marianna Virtanen, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki.
Statistics from previously published studies showed that those who worked 49 to 54 hours a week had a 13 percent increased risk of excess drinking.
Virtanen’s team collected data on more than 333,000 people in 14 countries. They found that longer working hours increased the likelihood of high rates of alcohol consumption. Socioeconomic status, country, gender and age had no effect on the study.
Virtanen believes that drinking to excess may be a coping mechanism for those with a variety of work-related ills such as stress, depression, tiredness and sleep disturbances.
She was careful to point out that this study could only show an association between long work hours and risky drinking, not that heavy drinking was caused by working long hours. “With this type of study, you can never fully prove the cause-and-effect relationship,” she said.
Cassandra Okechukwu, assistant professor in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health believes that workers are using alcohol as a painkiller and for smoothing the transition between work life and home life. She also noted that there are many efforts to curtail regulations against working long hours.
“However, policymakers should think carefully before exempting workers from restrictions on working hours,” Okechukwu added.