Long Hours at Work and Alcohol Consumption

A long work week is typically associated with a high level of stress. However, some people claim to thrive on this type of schedule, working from early in the morning until late at night, and then toting a laptop home to finish up more assignments.

There are many suspected side effects to an all work and no play lifestyle. The stereotypical workaholic has tattered family relationships, a nonexistent exercise regimen and lives on fast-food meals. While this lifestyle is often portrayed in the media, researchers are exploring whether there are connections between work hours and health issues.

A new study published in the January 2012 issue of the journal Addiction explores the connection between work hours and alcohol related problems during the early years of adulthood. The study was conducted by Sheree J. Gibb, David M. Fergusson and Jon Horwood at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

To examine the association between work hours and alcohol use, the researchers conducted a longitudinal analysis of a birth cohort from Christchurch, New Zealand. The participants were all born in 1977 and were followed to the age of 30.

The sample included a total of 1,919 participants. The data included information about working hours and alcohol-related problems collected at the age of 25 or 30.

The researchers measured data relating to frequent alcohol use, the number of symptoms identified as criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence and the number of weekly hours spent working in paid employment.

The team also adjusted associations identified between alcohol-related problems and work hours using measures of personality and behavior, academic achievement and IQ, mental health problems, recent life events, parental and family background, and current partner and family situations.

The researchers discovered that longer work hours showed a significant association with more frequent alcohol use. Longer work hours were also associated with higher rates of alcohol abuse and dependence and a greater number of symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence.

The associations were adjusted with several different confounding factors. Even with accounting for these factors there was a significant connection between working hours and alcohol-related problems. Those who worked more than 50 hours a week were 1.8 to 3.3 times more likely to have an alcohol-related problem than those who did not work. The results did not differ when gender was considered.

While the study does not seek to establish a causal relationship between working hours and increased alcohol use, the results call for further study. Additional research may provide evidence that there is a connection that indicates that increasing work hours is a risk factor for the development of alcohol-related problems. Additional research may also help to identify whether certain types of employment are connected with increased alcohol use when compared with others.