Drunk at Work: How Common Is It?

Survey Shows 15% of Workforce Admits to Alcohol Consumption or Hangovers

Medically Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on January 12, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 12, 2006 -- Call it WUI -- working under the influence of alcohol.

An estimated 15% of the U.S. workforce -- just over 19 million people -- have drunk alcohol before or during work, or come to work with a hangover, a new study shows.

Judging by the study, some managers may not be too keen to crack down. They were among the workers who were more likely to admit having downed a drink sometime while on the clock.

The study by Michael Frone, PhD, appears in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Frone works at the State University of New York at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions.

Admitting Alcohol Use

Frone's findings come from telephone interviews with about 2,800 randomly chosen adults in the continental U.S.

Some questions covered drinking on the job or before work. Another topic was alcohol impairment at work -- being out of it, to some extent, due to alcohol or hangovers.

Participants were also asked when they drank (before work, during work, at lunch, or on other breaks), when they worked, and what jobs they held.

The interviewers didn't know where participants worked and promised confidentiality. So the workers opened up.

Many Fields Affected

At-work alcohol use or impairment was more often admitted by people in these careers:

  • Management
  • The arts, entertainment, and media
  • Sports
  • Food preparation or food service
  • Maintenance of buildings or grounds

People without regular daytime hours were more likely to note drinking before work. Maybe they had stopped by bars, restaurants, or parties on their way to work, writes Frone.

Men were more likely than women to note on-the-job alcohol use or impairment. So were younger, white workers and unmarried staffers.

Not Rare, but Not Frequent

How common is alcohol use or impairment at work? It's not rare, but most workers aren't often buzzed, either, according to the study.

"Among those reporting any workplace alcohol use or impairment, an estimated 70% reported doing so less than monthly, 19% monthly, and 11% weekly," Frone writes.

Remember, even one hangover per year or one glass of wine at lunch could qualify. The study doesn't suggest that anyone was regularly getting hammered and then trying to work.

Did anyone fib? It's possible. But the questions were part of a general health survey and weren't voiced judgmentally.

Frone calls for more studies to check how such alcohol use and impairment affect workers' productivity and safety.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Frone, M. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, January 2006; vol 67: pp 147-156. News release, Research Institute on Addictions, State University of New York at Buffalo.
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