Study: Some Workers Hung Over in the Office

January 11, 2006 ( - If a work colleague sways on the way to the water cooler or spends time with his head on his desk moaning, there may be a good reason: he may be drunk.

But the colleague’s inebriation probably isn’t frequent, according to a new study by a University of Buffalo psychology professor based on a telephone survey of workers’ daytime alcohol consumption, according to a news release. Michael Frone’s study also examined the extent to which that drinking affected workers’ on the job performance.

According to the announcement, b ased on a series of telephone interviews from January 2002 to June 2003, Frone estimated that 15% or 19.2 million US workers are directly affected by such workplace alcohol use and impairment. Frone further estimated that 2.1 million workers (1.7% of the workforce) worked under the influence of alcohol and 11.6 million workers (9.2% of the workforce) worked with a hangover.

Interview subjects 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.

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.

Frone went on to estimate that 2.3 million workers (1.8% of the workforce) have consumed alcohol at least once before coming to work and 8.9 million workers (7.1% of the workforce) have drank alcohol at least once during the workday.

An Important Workplace Issue

Frone asserted that the potential impact of alcohol in the workplace is worth consideration by employers. “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,” the researcher asserted in the news release. “The misuse of alcohol by employed adults is an important social policy issue with the potential to undermine employee productivity and safety.”

Just as the study found that workplace impairment doesn’t always affect large numbers of workers, it likewise found that it doesn’t happen often. Among those employees who report drinking before work, 71% reported doing so less than monthly, 25% monthly and only 4% weekly. For those who drank during the workday, 62% did so less than monthly, 24% monthly, and 14% weekly.

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 US workforce from ages 18 to 65.

An article about the study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol .