Working long hours leads to “risky” relationship with alcohol

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According to a new study, those who work longer than 48 hours per week are more inclined to develop a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

Studies conducted in the past have found a link between working longer hours and becoming dependent on alcohol, and the new study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has produced results that support the theory.

The study, published in the BMJ, analysed 333,693 workers across 14 countries.

It defines a “risky” consumption of alcohol as “14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men.”

In New Zealand, legislation dictates that employment agreements must set the maximum number of hours of work in any week – this must be not more than 40 unless mutually greed otherwise. This excludes overtime, which many opt to undertake to complete projects or earn an extra income.

Dangerous levels of alcohol consumption are also linked to difficulties in the workplace, including increased sick leave, poor performance, impaired decision making and higher risk of occupational injuries.

The research found that those who worked 49 or more hours in a week were 13% more likely to partake in “risky” weekly alcohol consumption than those who worked a 35 to 40 hour week.

There was no difference seen between gender, age group, socioeconomic status or region.

Although the 13% statistic might seem small, researchers argued that exposure to avoidable increases in disease or health-damaging behaviour were worth considering.

“'The workplace is an important setting for the prevention of alcohol misuse, because more than half of the adult population are employed,” said Professor Marianna Virtanen, an author of the report. “'Further research is needed to assess whether preventive interventions against risky alcohol use could benefit from information on working hours.”

Cassandra A. Okechukwu, an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health, wrote an accompanying editorial to the report.

She said the results have implications for exceptions to recommended weekly working hours, which could lead to more alcohol consumption and greater health risks for millions of people.

“Given mounting pressure to exclude an increasing proportion of workers from current standards that limit working hours in Europe and other developed countries, long working hours is an exposure that we cannot afford to ignore,” she wrote.

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