(HealthDay News) — Working long hours may raise the risk for alcohol abuse, according to a new study of more than 300,000 people from 14 countries. The report was published online January 13 in The BMJ.

Risky drinking is considered to be >14 drinks a week for women and > 21 drinks a week for men. Drinking this much may increase the risk of health problems such as liver disease, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and mental disorders, the researchers said.

Marianna Virtanen, PhD, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, and colleagues collected data on more than 333,693 people in 14 countries. They found that longer working hours increased the likelihood of high rates of alcohol consumption by 11%. An analysis of an additional 100,602 people from nine countries found a similar increase in risk. Statistics from 18 published studies showed that those who worked 49–54 hours a week had a 13% increased risk of excess drinking. And those who worked ≥55 hours a week had an increased risk of 12% compared with those who worked 35–40 hours per week, the researchers added. These findings did not differ for men and women or by age, socioeconomic status, or country.

“The paper supports the longstanding suspicion that many workers may be using alcohol as a mental and physical painkiller, and for smoothing the transition from work to home,” Cassandra Okechukwu, ScD, author of an accompanying journal editorial, told HealthDay. Okechukwu is an assistant professor in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “We always look at the content of work when thinking about health, but the hours worked is turning out to be very important to health. Workers, their loved ones, health care professionals, policymakers, and everyone concerned about health need to pay attention to the impact of long working hours on health.”

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