Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Heavy alcohol use linked to 232M missed workdays in US each year

Close up of a glass of wine and a beer in a bar. Istock

Story at a glance

  • Using survey data from around 110,000 U.S. adults, researchers found that 9 percent — approximately 11 million full-time workers — met the diagnostic standards for alcohol use disorder.
  • Investigators noted reasons for missing work ranged from illness and injury to simply skipping.
  • Those surveyed who were classified with alcohol use issues accounted for 14.1 percent of all missed workdays.
  • The data was collected from 2015 through 2019 via the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

New research has linked heavy alcohol use to more than 232 million missed workdays annually in the U.S.  

Researchers from Washington University, St. Louis using survey data from around 110,000 U.S. adults, found that 9 percent — approximately 11 million full-time workers — met the diagnostic standards for alcohol use disorder. People who met these criteria reported missing 32 days each year, more than doubling the number of missed days for those surveyed without the disorder.  

Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed through a set of questions, including the amount of time one spends sick from drinking, whether a person has thought about quitting drinking but was unable, and if a person continued to consume alcohol after blacking out. 

The data was collected from 2015 through 2019 via the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is put out annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  

“Alcohol use disorder is a major problem in the United States and a big problem in many workplaces, where it contributes to a significant number of workdays missed,” senior investigator Laura J. Bierut said in a news release.    

“The problem likely has worsened during the pandemic, and we need to try to do more to ensure that people can get the help they need to deal with alcohol use disorder,” Bierut continued. “The new data also point to an economic incentive for employers and policymakers to address the issue.” 

Investigators noted the reasons for missing work ranged from illness and injury to simply skipping, and those surveyed with alcohol use issues accounted for 14.1 percent of all missed workdays.  


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“Often, people who miss that much work lose their jobs,” Bierut said. “But our hope is that the workplace might be a point of contact where intervention can occur. You’re there eight hours a day, and when an employer begins seeing these difficulties, perhaps instead of firing a person, they could take action to assist with that individual’s recovery.” 

The study’s first author, Ian C. Parsley, said researchers intentionally stopped analyzing data the year before the coronavirus pandemic began as the number of remote workers could skew findings.  

“Having more people working at home could change the associations we saw before the pandemic began. The amount of alcohol consumed since people have been working from home more has really just gone through the roof. That’s not something that’s just going to resolve itself, even as we slowly come out of this pandemic.” 

The findings were published Thursday online in JAMA Network Open.


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