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People across the socioeconomic spectrum use alcohol to unwind

By Justin Worland
January 14, 2015

People who work more than 48 hours a week are more likely to drink at dangerous levels than their counterparts who work fewer hours, according to new research. The link between alcohol misuse and long work hours suggests that employers have a role to play in stemming alcohol abuse, according to the study in the BMJ.

The study, which reviewed data from more than 300,000 participants, defined risky drinking as the consumption of more than 14 drinks per week for women and 21 drinks for men.

“If people are [engaging in] risky drinking, they don’t sleep well, they’re not as socially engaged,” says Cassandra Okechukwu, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who wrote an editorial to accompany the study. “It’s really important for work places to pay attention to the productivity of their workers and work environment.”

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The study found the connection between long hours and increased alcohol consumption to be consistent across socioeconomic groups, so a fast food worker who works 60 hours at two jobs is just as likely to consume more alcohol as a banker who works the same hours. People across the spectrum use alcohol to unwind, says Okechukwu.

While the study identifies public health issues associated with working long hours, it offers little policy guidance on how to solve the problem. In Europe, the European Union Working Time Directive encourages employers to limit their workers’ weeks to 48 hours on the job, but many people still work longer. Enacting labor laws would be even more difficult in the United States, where few policies regulate working hours.

“I don’t want to make policy recommendations,” Okechukwu says. “In the U.S., we’re not even there yet.”

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