It may be #Drynuary, but you can bet that, for all the liquor-abstainers, there are plenty of liquor-indulgers. Everyone's returned from vacation, gotten settled in, realized how much work has accumulated, and is now back in full stress-mode. And, if history is any indication, when people are stressed, they drink.
People try to reduce stress at the end of the day with a couple drinks, but they may just be causing more health issues for themselves.
According to a new study in the BMJ that analyzed data from 61 studies involving 333,693 people in 14 countries, people working long hours are more likely to drink too much.
More specifically, they found that employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks.
Since the researchers are based in Finland, they defined risky drinking by the European standard as more than 14 drinks per week for women and 21 for men. They also note that the European Union Working Time Directive (EUWT) ensures that workers in EU countries can never be forced to work more than 48 hours a week, including overtime. However, many people — especially well-educated professionals — choose to work much longer hours in the hopes of getting ahead on work, faster promotions, salary increases, and more control over their place of work, the authors wrote in a press release.
By analyzing individual participant data from multiple prospective studies, researchers found that those who worked 49 to 54 hours and 55 hours per week or more were found to have an increased risk of 13% and 12%, respectively, of risky alcohol consumption compared with those who worked 35 to 40 hours per week. They saw no differences due to gender, age, socioeconomic status, or region.
And we know that this type of behavior increases risk for liver disease, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease, and mental disorders.
So while people might feel an immediate sense of relief by getting ahead on work and then subsequently consuming multiple drinks, they might be unknowingly sabotaging their stress levels for the long term. Drinking heavily could lead to a decline in performance, increased sick leave, impaired decision making, and occupational injuries.
The study authors speculate that depression and sleep problems may contribute to the link between working too much and risky drinking. It could also be that competitive jobs with long hours have a culture that encourages heavy drinking — a la The Wolf of Wall Street.
"The workplace is an important setting for the prevention of alcohol misuse, because more than half of the adult population are employed," wrote the team of researchers.
More research needs to be done to see how work life affects after-work life, but the relationship between work hours and alcohol abuse is still pretty obvious. The desire reach your full potential at work is ambitious — something you should never try to extinguish. But it'll be much harder to get there by working overtime all the time, then heading to the bar. It's unhealthy. Work as hard as you can in the recommended 48 hours or less, and maybe your stress will start to loosen its white-knuckle grip on you.