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Stress and Alcohol Abuse in Middle-Class Professionals

Stress and Alcohol Abuse in Middle-Class ProfessionalsData shows the rates of alcohol and drug use actually rise with increased levels of income and education.¹ Multiple studies have shown that middle-class people consume more alcohol and illegal drugs than those living below the poverty line.²-³ Alcohol abuse among the middle-class workforce is a major issue that affects both employees and employers. Recent studies have shown that middle-class workers consume more alcohol than other groups within the workforce.4 These workers drink to cope with job-related stress or to overcome negative emotions, but over time alcohol use will lead to compromised health, declined performance, and decreased safety on and off the job.

Chronic stress is a known risk factor for alcohol abuse, and for many workers their job is a constant source of stress day after day.5 Middle-class working professionals are especially at risk of developing alcohol abuse and dependency due to workplace stress. Here are some of the ways stress in the work environment can promote alcohol abuse:

Lack of Control Over Work

Depending on their place within a company, some people may have less influence over their job and the overall workplace environment. Frustration and feelings of meaningless can arise. This can lead to on-the-job boredom and a lack of stimulation. Studies have found that workers with little control over occupational decisions have lower esteem for their profession and are more likely to become problem drinkers.6

Work-Related Exposure to the Public

Work that demands interaction with the public can be a constant source of stress. Daily tasks such as greeting customers, catering to guests, and dealing with client dissatisfaction can easily induce work-related stress, and there is an association between the demands of these jobs and addictive behaviors. A recent study published in the journal PLOS One provides data showing that stress related to exposure to the public (such as customers and guests) during work is associated with increased use of alcohol.7

Job Strain

Exposure to job strain, a form of workplace stress characterized by high job demands and low ability to use skills or make decisions, leads to an increased risk of substance use disorders. Feeling overworked without the ability to reach out to your peers and superiors can sometimes lead to depression in workers. Recent studies have shown that higher job strain is associated with increased alcohol-related disorders in middle-class workers such as bankers.8-9

Salary

Research findings indicate a relationship between wages and alcohol consumption. One study found that heavy drinkers make approximately 20% less earnings than moderate drinkers.10 Unfair treatment regarding pay, benefits, and promotions are also workplace stressors that can influence problematic drinking.

Other Stressors

Middle-class professionals deal with many other stressors in the work environment that can promote unhealthy drinking habits. These include:

  • Conflict with supervisors or coworkers
  • Unclear performance expectations
  • Rigid work schedule
  • Consistently long hours
  • Involuntary overtime
  • Job insecurity
  • Lack of social support
  • Excessive workloads
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement
  • Repetitive or boring work
  • Alcohol is physically or socially available in the workplace

Sources:

  1. Galea, S., Ahern, J., Tracy, M., & Vlahov, D. (2007). Neighborhood Income and Income Distribution and the Use of Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Marijuana. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32(6), S195–202.
  2. Gallup Poll. (20158). Drinking Highest Among Educated, Upper-Income Americans.
  3. Social Metrics Commission. (2018). A New Measure of Poverty for the UK.
  4. Ling, J., Smith, K.E., Wilson, G.B., Brierley-Jones, L., Crosland, A., Kaner, E.F., & Haighton, C.A. (2012). The ‘other’ in patterns of drinking: a qualitative study of attitudes towards alcohol use among professional, managerial and clerical workers. BMC Public Health, 12(892), 1-7.
  5. Sinha, R. (2009). Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1141(1), 105-130.
  6. Yang, M.J., Yang, M.S., & Kawachi, I. (2001). Work experience and drinking behavior: alienation, occupational status, workplace drinking subculture and problem drinking. Public Health, 115(4), 265-271.
  7. Airagnes, G., Lemogne, C., Goldberg, M., Hoertel, N., Roquelaure, Y., Limosin, F., & Zins M. (2018). Job exposure to the public in relation with alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use: Findings from the CONSTANCES cohort study. PLoS One, 13(5), 1-20.
  8. Lima, C.T., Farrell, M., & Prince, M. (2013). Job strain, hazardous drinking, and alcohol-related disorders among Brazilian bank workers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(2), 212-222.
  9. Colell, E., Sánchez-Niubò, A., Benavides, F.G., Delclos, G.L., & Domingo-Salvany, A. (2014). Work-related stress factors associated with problem drinking: A study of the Spanish working population. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 57(7), 837-846.
  10. Böckerman, P., Hyytinen, A., & Maczulskij, T. (2017). Alcohol Consumption and Long-Term Labor Market Outcomes. Health Economics, 26(3), 275-291.
Last Updated on August 26, 2019
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
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