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Alcohol and the working population

The heaviest drinkers, and thus those with the greatest likelihood of experiencing alcohol problems, tend to be concentrated in those of working age.

The British Medical Association states that it is evident that individuals in employment are more likely to drink frequently compared to those who are unemployed, and that individuals in managerial and professional occupations are likely to drink more frequently than those in routine and manual occupations.[1]

Some studies hint at a correlation between working hours and amount of alcohol consumed; one involving a sample of 300,000 subjects across Europe, Australia and North America identified that those who work more than 48 hours a week are 11% more likely to drink alcohol at risk levels than those working a standard week.[2]

A market research report also demonstrates that the phenomenon of drinking to relieve workplace pressures also exists from the consumer angle (see figure 1).


Heavy drinking during the working week contributes to the prevalence of alcohol-related health problems among workers, which in turn impacts upon the productivity of firms. Up to 17 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol-related sickness and the cost to employers of sick days due to alcohol is estimated at £1.7bn.[3] The total annual cost to the economy is estimated to be £7.3bn (2009/10 prices).[4]

A 2007 report commissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare produced the following findings on alcohol-related workplace issues:[5]

  • A third of employees admitted to having been to work with a hangover
  • 15% reported having been drunk at work
  • 1 in 10 reported hangovers at work once a month; 1 in 20 once a week
  • Work problems resulting from hangovers or being drunk at work included difficulty concentrating; reduced productivity; tiredness and mistakes
  • The majority of employers (77%) interviewed identified alcohol as a major threat to employee wellbeing and a factor encouraging sickness absence.

However, the acknowledgment of heavy and frequent drinking in the working environment does not necessarily lead to changes in those drinkers’ attitudes to alcohol consumption. The most recent findings of an annual healthy workplace survey comprising responses from over 25,000 employees representing 82 companies showed that:[6]

  • Roughly a third of employees (31%) interviewed said they were at risk of exceeding the Chief Medical Officers’ weekly alcohol guidelines of no more than 14 units per week
  • Of those, only 6% reported being motivated to cut down on their drinking; the majority of respondents who exceeded the weekly amounts (56%) had no such intention, while a further 38% recognised that they should drink less, but did not intend to in the short term.

Among workers, official data on alcohol-related mortality by socioeconomic classification has suggested that “routine workers” are at greater risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease than those in higher managerial and professional jobs.

Men whose jobs are classified as “routine”, such as van drivers and labourers, face 3.5 times the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease than those in higher managerial and professional jobs. Women in “routine” jobs, such as cleaners and sewing machinists, face 5.7 times the chance of dying from an alcohol-related disease than women in higher professional jobs such as doctors and lawyers.[7]

Next: The causes and effects of workplace drinking

[1] The British Medical Association (January 2017), ‘Alcohol, drugs and the workplace - the role of medical professionals’ <>

[2] British Medical Journal (January 2015), ‘Long working hours are linked to risky alcohol consumption’ <>

[3] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (June 2010), 'Business case: Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking', p. 13

[4] Home Office (November 2012), 'Impact Assessment on a minimum unit price for alcohol', p. 5

[5] Aviva (May 2008), 'UK employees admit that regular drinking affects their jobs'


[6] Vitality Health Insurance (January 2017), ‘A third of UK adults at risk from drinking too much, yet just 6% of those at risk say they want to cut down’, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace


[7] Office for National Statistics (ONS) (May 2011), 'Alcohol death rate greater for women and men in routine jobs', Health Statistics Quarterly 50, p. 1