March 17, 2022 – Heavy alcohol use is associated with missing work, but the scope of that relationship has not been well understood. Now, based on survey data from more than 110,000 U.S. adults with full-time jobs, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have quantified the extent of the problem.

Among U.S. adults working full time, an estimated 9% — almost 11 million full-time workers — met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse consequences in one’s social life, work life or health.

The findings are published online March 17 in the journal JAMA Network Open.  Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed using a series of questions — such as whether an individual tried to stop drinking but couldn’t, spent a great deal of time sick from drinking, or continued to drink even after having a memory blackout.

Those surveyed who did not meet criteria for alcohol use disorder missed about 13 days of work annually, but individuals with mild alcohol use disorder missed an average of almost 18 days. Meanwhile, those with moderate alcohol use disorder missed nearly 24 days, and those with severe alcohol use disorder reported missing 32 days of work each year.

“Often, people who miss that much work lose their jobs,” said Bierut, who also directs the Washington University Health & Behavior Research Center. “But our hope is that the workplace might be a point of contact where intervention can occur. You’re there eight hours a day, and when an employer begins seeing these difficulties, perhaps instead of firing a person, they could take action to assist with that individual’s recovery.”