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Alcohol costs U.S. employees 232 million workdays, Wash U study finds

Drs. Laura Bierut and Ian Parsley found adults who have alcohol use disorder and work full-time miss twice the amount of workdays as their counterparts.
Emily Woodbury
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Drs. Laura Bierut and Ian Parsley found adults who have alcohol use disorder and work full-time miss twice the amount of workdays as their counterparts.

Americans miss 232 million workdays a year due to alcohol use disorder — and the rise in alcohol consumption during the pandemic suggests the number is going in the wrong direction.

The statistic comes from a new Washington University study in which researchers analyzed data gathered from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The study found 9% of full-time adults met the criteria for alcohol use disorder. That’s nearly 11 million workers in the U.S.

Adults who struggle with alcoholism miss an average of 32 workdays a year — double the number for workers who don’t suffer from alcohol use disorder. And the remote work forced by the pandemic only made the issue worse.

“The good thing about work is that it offers structure, and with the pandemic, we've really lost so much structure,” said Dr. Laura Bierut on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. The psychiatrist is the senior investigator of the study and a Wash U professor. “We've lost the guardrails of getting up in the morning [and] getting dressed.”

Alcohol sales jumped during the pandemic and have stayed high, but still, Bierut believes a solution is near — and it lies in the workplace.

“The problems with alcohol use disorder not only affect the employee, but they're affecting the employer,” she said. “So many people get their health insurance through their employer. We're hoping that this is a virtuous circle that will occur and the employer will care.”

Alcohol use disorder is more common among people who work full-time than the general population — and most common among young men.

Dr. Ian Parsley, the lead researcher for the study, hopes these sobering findings will help people seek treatment.

“The biggest takeaway here is just the extent to which alcohol use disorder is so common. And in that way, it's very normalized,” he said.

The findings were published online in the journal JAMA Network Open in March.

U.S. workers miss 232 million days a year due to alcoholism

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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