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Working very long hours linked to risky alcohol use, warn researchers

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Healthcare staff who work long hours in stressful environments are at an increased risk of developing a dangerous relationship with alcohol, warn researchers.

Employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks, according to a new study.

Risky alcohol consumption that may increase the risk of adverse health problems is considered as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men.

“Risky alcohol use is an issue in the workplace because it can have adverse and serious effects on employees”

Study authors

The European Union Working Time Directive is designed to ensure staff have the right to work no more than 48 hours a week, including overtime, but this remains the choice of the individual worker.

The authors of the new study, published in the British Medical Journal, performed the first systematic analysis on the association between long working hours and alcohol use.

Analysis of 61 studies, involving 333,693 people in 14 countries, found longer working hours increased the likelihood of higher alcohol use by 11%.

The researchers found no differences were seen between men and women or by age, socio-economic status or region.

They stated: “Risky alcohol use is an issue in the workplace because it can have adverse and serious effects on employees, such as absenteeism, inefficiency, poor performance, impaired decision making, damaged customer relations, and injuries at work.

The authors added: “Possible explanations for the association between long working hours and risky alcohol use might involve the work environment as well as individual characteristics.

“One view is that alcohol use alleviates stress that is caused by work pressure and working conditions,” they said. “Working overtime and characteristics such as high demands and lack of control might contribute to stress at work.”

The Europe-wide study involved UK researchers from University College London, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Bristol.

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