Past research has demonstrated that individuals who lose their jobs during periods of economic uncertainty are more likely to turn to alcohol in an attempt to ease their stress, or even just fill their time. But a new study finds that even those who keep their jobs through such periods may be more likely to hit the bottle.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the US rose sharply during the Great Recession of 2007-09, from 5% to 9.5%.
It is perhaps unsurprising that numerous studies have associated unemployment during this period with increased stress and greater alcohol use; a 2013 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and & Experimental Research, found that women who experienced severe economic loss during the recession, including job loss, were more likely to report monthly drunkenness.
But how do economic downturns influence the alcohol use of individuals who keep their jobs?
Michael Frone, PhD, of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, NY, set out to answer this question with his new study, findings of which are published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
To reach his findings, Frone compared the results of two telephone surveys of 5,082 workers in the US. One survey – involving 2,501 employees – was conducted in 2002-03, prior to the great recession. The other survey included 2,581 employees and was conducted during and after the recession, between 2008-11.
- In 2013, 86.8% of adults in the US reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives
- 16.6 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2013
- In the same year, around 697,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had an alcohol use disorder.
As part of the survey, employees were asked whether they drank alcohol, and if so, when they drank it, how much they drank and how often.
While drinking at work among employees reduced after the recession compared with before, Frone found alcohol use and excessive drinking outside of work increased during the recession.
“Despite the increased stress at work that came with the recession, employees decreased their alcohol use during the workday to avoid putting their employment in jeopardy,” Frone hypothesizes. “But perhaps to reduce stress, they increased both excessive alcohol use and drinking right after work.”
Furthermore, on assessing the results by age, he found that drinking among middle-aged employees increased during the recession, but no such increase was identified among younger employees.
According to Frone, this age discrepancy may be down to greater family and financial responsibilities experienced in middle age. He explains that such responsibilities can heighten the stress of job insecurity, greater work demands, financial losses and uncertainty surrounding retirement income.
These findings are a cause for concern for both employers and workers, says Frone:
“Excessive drinking can lead to absenteeism or coming to work hung over, which can affect productivity. Also, increased drinking after work may lead to family problems, which can affect performance at work.”
He adds that employers could help reduce the risk of alcohol problems among employees during periods of economic uncertainty by introducing strategies that reduce stress in the workplace, noting that such strategies need to be implemented before another economic crisis emerges.
In February of last year, Medical News Today reported on a study in The Lancet Psychiatry that suggests unemployment causes around 45,000 suicides worldwide every year, accounting for around nine times as many suicides caused by economic downturns.