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Working Longer Hours Can Mean Drinking More

It's been a long day. Time to unwind.

People who try to reduce the stress of a long work day with a drink or two, or three, may be causing more health problems for themselves.

Around the world, people working long hours are more likely to drink too much, according to a study that analyzed data from 61 studies involving 333,693 people in 14 countries.

They found that people who worked more than 48 hours a week were 13 percent more likely to engage in risky drinking than people working 35 to 40 hours a week.

And since almost 40 percent of Americans working full time work more than 50 hours a week, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, that could mean a lot of problem drinkers.

Since the researchers are based in Finland, they defined risky drinking by the European standard as more than 14 drinks per week for women and 21 drinks for men. In the U.S., risky drinking is defined more conservatively, at more than 7 drinks per week for women and more than 14 drinks per week for men.

No matter which numbers constitute too much alcohol, we do know that drinking alcohol increases risk for liver disease, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental disorders.

And while people may be imbibing to reduce the stress of working long hours, that habit may be increasing stress on the job due to increased sick leave, poor performance, impaired decision making and occupational injuries.

Depression and sleep problems may be contribute to the link between working too much and risky drinking, the study authors speculate. Or it could be that competitive jobs that demand long hours have a culture that encourages heavy drinking. Think The Wolf of Wall Street.

This study didn't find differences in long work hours and drinking among socioeconomic groups, or by sex. So there's no way to know if people are drinking because they're drinking because they're struggling to make a living, or living the high life.

The study was published Wednesday in The BMJ.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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