Teetotallers take more sick days than drinkers

According to a new study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, people who do not drink alcohol are just as likely to miss work due to sickness as heavy drinkers. The study results appeared in the latest issue of the journal Addiction.

The team of researchers looked at the likelihood of missing work calling in sick in different groups of people. For this they looked at over 47,500 people in Europe (Finland, France and the United Kingdom).

The participants were all given out questionnaires which asked them about their alcohol use and also the number of sick days that they reported at work over a period of past four to seven years. They filled in the questionnaires at two time points. Workplace absenteeism records were obtained from the local and national employee registries.

Image Credit: AndreyCherkasov / Shutterstock
Image Credit: AndreyCherkasov / Shutterstock

Results and analysis revealed that there were five categories of drinkers in the population studied. The range of drinking was from people who never drank to those who drank moderately and finally those who were heavy drinkers. Moderate drinking is defined as one to 11 units of alcohol a week for women and one to 34 units per week for men. Heavy drinking was more than 11 units and 34 units for women and men respectively. One unit of alcohol is defined as around 8 grams of alcohol. Each glass of wine has around 2 units of alcohol while a beer has 1.75 units of alcohol.

The researchers noted that sickness absenteeism was high among both teetotallers and heavy drinkers. Bothe groups were just as likely to be absent from work due to sickness and this was more than moderate drinkers. There was thus a “U shaped” relationship with amount of drinking and sickness absenteeism say researchers. The common reasons why teetotallers are absent from work include mental health problems, musculoskeletal problems and infections and diseases of the respiratory and digestive system. Heavy drinkers lost out on days of work due to injuries and poisonings.

Lead author Jenni Ervasti said, “Some diseases, or their treatment, prevent alcohol use, which may explain the excess risks among abstainers…Moreover, participants to whom at-risk drinking causes health problems may be selected out from the labor market, that is, if they retire early or become unemployed. Then, the adverse effects are not seen in absence from work due to illness.”

According to experts more studies that are conducted in other parts of the world are needed to come to definitive conclusions. Drinking and lifestyle habits differ in other regions and those may shed light on actual association between alcoholism and sickness absenteeism. Also this was self-reported data that could suffer from a bias. Experts warn that drinking in any amount is not free of its harmful effects and this study should not be an “all ok” for moderate drinking. Detailed and more global studies are necessary to understand the relationship between alcohol use and work place absenteeism say experts.

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