The Harder You Work, the More You Drink
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The Harder You Work, the More You Drink


If working tirelessly around the clock can buy us recognition and prestige, Armani suits and Cartier bling, many believe it’s worth the extra hours. After all, who doesn’t want to climb up the corporate ladder to snag a corner office, become a high-powered partner at a swanky law firm or order lowly gofers to pick up nonfat lattes as an Editor in Chief for a Condé Nast magazine? Well, maybe this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: a new study reveals that people who work more than 40 hours per week often drown their stress in booze. And this, of course, might have some gnarly consequences—outbursts, black-outs and DUI’s come to mind.

While it’s certainly stressful to work long hours, it can also bring on an adrenaline rush—meeting pressured deadlines and winning a tough case in court is a nice buzz for anyone with an addictive mind. Could alcoholism and workaholism just be two sides of the same proverbial coin?

A Global Problem

The study, published in the British Medical Journal and authored by researchers in Finland, gathered data from 61 other studies in 14 countries around the world and compared the working and drinking habits of 333,693 people. Results revealed that those who spent more than 48 hours at the office were 13% more likely to down extra shots of tequila and martinis than people who work 35 to 40 hours.

To determine who fell into the 13%, researchers used guidelines from the US National Institute of Health as bench markers. According to the NIH, women who guzzle more than seven drinks a week and men who down more than 14 are playing with fire. Researchers in Europe held participants to looser standards—more than 14 drinks for women and more than 21 for men is considered risky business.

An additional study examined 100,602 individuals in nine countries who had no prior alcohol problems, then tracked them after they started working extra-long hours. In the end, these workers had a 12% chance of developing drinking problems than those working 40 hours or under per week. If you do the math, which Cassandra Okechukwu of the Harvard School of Public Health was kind enough to do, this amounts to more than two million people worldwide double-fisting after work to check out.

A pattern like this certainly throws a wrench into the idealism of the American Dream. With close to 40 percent of Americans working over 50 hours per week, we’ve got a lot of drinking buddies.

Is There More At Play?

While stress from working long hours can lead to extra drinking, researchers didn’t mention whether the fallout from drinking itself—rancid hangovers that lead to calling in sick and on-the-job klutziness that leads to injuries—was a part of the problem. Drinking a fifth of vodka or a six pack per day can certainly perpetuate a vicious cycle where consequences from drinking, like morning jitters or depression, triggers more drinking. And logging more hours at work could help make up for the time lost to those ways drinking can slow us down the day after.

So to anyone working extra hours to save up for retirement or a trip to San Sebastian—or typing endlessly into a laptop in order to avoid, you know, feeling your feelings—consider forgoing the overtime or escape or it may get poured down the drain on a jug of Patrón or DUI fines.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.