Study: 15 Percent of U.S. Work Force Under the Influence of Alcohol

On-the-job alcohol use and impairment affects about 19.2 million people roughly one in six U.S. workers according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by the University of Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, estimates that 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the work force) have consumed alcohol at least once before coming to work and 8.9 million workers (7.1 percent of the work force) have drank alcohol at least once during the workday. Most workers who drink during the workday do so during lunch breaks, though some drink while working or during other breaks, according to the study.

The study also estimates that 2.1 million workers (1.7 percent of the work force) have worked under the influence of alcohol and 11.6 million workers (9.2 percent of the work force) have worked with a hangover.

Nonetheless, the study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, suggests that most workplace alcohol use and impairment does not occur frequently.

Among those employees who report drinking before work, 71 percent reported doing so less than monthly, 25 percent monthly and only 4 percent weekly. For those who drank during the workday, 62 percent did so less than monthly, 24 percent monthly and 14 percent weekly.

Researchers obtained the information about workplace alcohol use and impairment by telephone interviews with 2,805 employed adults residing in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. The sample of participants was designed to reflect the demographic composition of the adult civilian U.S. work force from ages 18 to 65.

Interviews were conducted from January 2002 to June 2003. Those interviewed were asked how often during the previous year they drank alcohol within 2 hours of reporting to work, drank during the workday, worked under the influence or worked with a hangover.

This is the first study of workplace alcohol use to utilize a representative probability sample of the U.S. work force, according to the Research Institute on Addictions.

Workplace Alcohol Use More Prevalent Among Men

The study found that workplace alcohol use and impairment was more prevalent among men compared to women. Also, working under the influence of alcohol or with a hangover was more prevalent among younger workers compared to older workers and among unmarried workers compared to married workers.

Among the broad occupation groups showing the highest rates of workplace alcohol use and impairment were the management occupations, sales occupations, arts/entertainment/sports/media occupations, food preparation and serving occupations and building and grounds maintenance occupations.

Workers on the evening shift and night shift and those working a nonstandard shift involving irregular or flexible work hours were more likely to report drinking before coming to work compared to workers on a regular day shift.

Those working a nonstandard shift also were more likely to use alcohol during the workday and report being at work under the influence of alcohol.

Prior to this study, very little data existed on the prevalence, frequency and distribution of alcohol use and impairment at the workplace.

Study Aims to Help Stakeholders Formulate Policy

A primary goal of the study was to inform managers, policymakers and researchers so that all stakeholders have a better understanding of the extent of alcohol use and impairment in the workplace when formulating policy and exploring causes and outcomes.

"Of all psychoactive substances with the potential to impair cognitive and behavioral performance, alcohol is the most widely used and misused substance in the general population and in the workforce," said Michael Frone, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study. Frone is a research associate professor in the University of Buffalo Department of Psychology. "The misuse of alcohol by employed adults is an important social policy issue with the potential to undermine employee productivity and safety."

Frone contends that the impact of employee alcohol use on productivity and safety may not be understood until closer attention is paid to the context in which drinking occurs. "The context of alcohol use off the job versus on the job is important to an understanding of the productivity implications job attendance versus job performance and safety of that use," he explained.

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