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Some occupations are more likely to be associated with heavy alcohol use than others. Jon Hicks/Getty Images
  • A study of people in the United Kingdom finds that some occupations are linked to heavy drinking, while others are associated with lower alcohol consumption.
  • The study explored the drinking habits of over 100,000 U.K. residents between the years 2006 and 2010.
  • Skilled tradespeople appear to be most likely to drink heavily, while those in “professional” occupations seem least likely to engage in this behavior.
  • The study aimed to help target alcohol prevention programs to the people most likely to benefit from them.

A study finds that heavy drinking among people aged 40–69 years appears to be associated with certain careers. Other occupations seem to be linked to a reduced level of drinking.

Prof. Andrew Thompson and Prof. Sir Munir Pirmohamed — both of whom are associated with the Wolfson Centre for Personalized Medicine, Molecular & Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. — conducted this research.

Corresponding study author Prof. Thompson says:

“Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of physical and mental harm, and by understanding which occupations are associated with heavy drinking, we can better target resources and interventions. Our research provides insight for policymakers and employers regarding which sectors may have the highest rates of heavy alcohol consumption.”

In the study, skilled trade jobs were most often linked to heavy drinking, while professional occupations were less often linked to this behavior.

The study appears in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

The researchers drew their conclusions from an analysis of data collected from 100,817 adults, with an average age of 55 years, who were part of the UK Biobank in 2006–2010.

For this reason, Prof. Thompson and Prof. Sir Pirmohamed caution that although the study captured drinking habits for those years, there is no way to know with certainty that its insights still apply.

The participants in the study reported their weekly or monthly alcohol consumption.

The study authors note that their analysis found associations between certain occupations and heavier drinking but did not suggest causality.

It drew no conclusions regarding the likelihood that a certain job will cause someone to drink more or that people disposed to heavier drinking are more likely to be drawn to those occupations.

For the purposes of the study, heavy drinking in men means drinking more than 50 U.K. units of alcohol per week, while heavy drinking in women means drinking more than 35 U.K. units of alcohol per week.

A U.K. unit of alcohol is 10 milliliters (ml) of pure alcohol. According to the National Health Service (NHS), a pint of low strength lager contains 2 units of alcohol, a 175-ml glass of strong wine contains 2.1 units, and a shot of a spirit — such as whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, or tequila — contains 1 unit.

The study found that the people most generally likely to engage in heavy drinking overall were managers of alcohol-serving establishments, plasterers, and people involved in cleaning, including those involved in the cleaning of industrial sites.

The men least likely to drink heavily were clergy, physicists, geologists, meteorologists, and medical practitioners.

For women, the data pointed to somewhat different associations. Specifically, those who worked as managers and senior officials were most likely to drink heavily.

Women who were biological scientists, biochemists, school secretaries, and physiotherapists were least likely to drink heavily.

However, the researchers excluded from the study any occupations represented by fewer than five participants. This means that they included 279 occupations represented by men and 170 occupations represented by women.

The fact that fewer occupations represented by women fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in the study meant that “meaningful interpretation of broad categories for [women]” was not possible, the authors write.

Still, Prof. Thompson suggests that the gender differences in heavy-drinking-related occupations “could indicate how work environments, along with gender and other complex factors, can influence relationships with alcohol.”

He suggests that the study’s findings demonstrate that “[w]orkplace-based interventions aiming to address alcohol consumption in occupations where heavy drinking is prevalent could benefit both individuals and the wider economy by improving employee well-being and by indirectly increasing productivity.”

The study revealed a wider array of occupations associated with heavy drinking than previous research has described. It also identified more jobs as being associated with less drinking than research has previously documented.

The effect of gender is another new insight that this analysis provides.

The study authors hope that their findings can help inform the deployment of prevention programs, aiding policymakers as they seek to efficiently target those workplaces most likely to be in need of such support.