Workplace alcohol use and impairment directly affects an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 19.2 million workers, according to a recent study conducted at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) and reported in the current issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.
Information about workplace alcohol use and impairment during the previous 12 months was obtained by telephone interviews from 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. workforce from ages 18-65.
Interviews were conducted from January 2002 to June 2003. Those interviewed were asked how often during the previous year they drank alcohol within two 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. workforce.
Based on those responses, Michael R. Frone, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study, estimates that 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the workforce) have consumed alcohol at least once before coming to work and 8.9 million workers (7.1 percent of the workforce) 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.
Frone, research associate professor in Department of Psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, estimates that 2.1 million workers (1.7 percent of the workforce) worked under the influence of alcohol and 11.6 million workers (9.2 percent of the workforce) 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 four percent, weekly. For those who drank during the workday, 62 percent did so less than monthly, 24 percent monthly, and 14 percent weekly.
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 were also 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.
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,” Frone stated. “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 vs. on the job — is important to an understanding of the productivity implications (job attendance vs. job performance and safety) of that use,” he explained.
The Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of addictions since 1970 and a research center of the University at Buffalo since 1999.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.