Is Working Too Much Driving Us to Drink?

It’s a common trope that people who work a lot are often driven to drink by the pressure they constantly have to deal with — but according to new research published in the British Medical Journal, that trope might not be too far from the truth: People who work long hours do drink more, apparently. a press release published along with the study (which, by the way, you can read for free — no paywall! Hoorah!) noted that while previous research had also established a similar link between long work hours and risk alcohol use, it’s only been in the form of “small, tentative studies.” This new one is huge, which gives what we already suspected a lot more credence. Interesting, no?

The researchers performed two types of analyses: A cross-sectional analysis gathered data from more than 330,000 people in 14 countries via a whopping 61 different studies; meanwhile, a prospective analysis used data from 100,602 people in nine countries gathered from 20 different studies. They found that, in the cross-sectional analysis, longer work hours increased the likelihood that people would drink more by 11 percent; the same was true of the prospective analysis, with the increase being 12 percent. Furthermore, individual participant data from 18 prospective studies showed that those who work over 49 hours per week increase their chance of risky alcohol consumption by 13 percent, compared with people who only work 35 to 40 hours per week. These increases, by the way, were consistent across the board, regardless as to the type of jobs the participants held — that is, as TIME put it, “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.”

This study makes it easy to make “This job! It is driving me to drink!” (insert melodramatic flourish here) jokes — but as always, it’s worth remembering that correlation is not causation. We don’t know why the link exists; only that it does exist. There could be any number of possible explanations, many of which could have dramatically different implications. It could be that people who are prone to being workaholics might also be prone to drinking more; it could be due to job-related stress; it could be part of the work culture (in the words of NPR, “Think The Wolf of Wall Street); and so on and so forth. More research would be required before we’d be able to suss out exactly why the connection exists — but hey, knowing it’s there in the first place at least gives us a place to start.

We should probably also bear in mind that context is important, particularly with regards to the definitions used: For the purposes of this study, “risky alcohol use” was defined as consuming more than 14 drinks per week (or about two or more drinks a day) for women and more than 21 drinks per week (or about three or more per day) for men; meanwhile, “working long hours” meant that employees clocked in at least 48 hours per week. Given that full-time employees in the U.S., for example, work an average of 47 hours per week, the 48 hours stipulated by the study is more likely to be viewed as the norm, not excessive. Whether or not we really should be working that much is an entirely different issue — Europeans, for example, work far less than Americans, and I can’t help but feel they’re the ones who are doing it right (work to live, don’t live to work) — but the bottom line is that in some places, it’s possible that drinking two or more drinks per day and/or working more than 48 hours per week are simply cultural norms that run alongside each other, rather than working together directly.

It’s food for thought in any event, though it might be worth monitoring your own drinking habits for a while, especially if you happen to work a lot. Booze has its benefits, but it can also contribute to sleeplessness and other health issues. Drink responsibly — and maybe with a Girl Scout Cookie on the side.

Images: Giphy