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Article Summary

Alcoholism Prevalent Among Hospitality Workers, Study Says

In a new study, George Washington University researchers concluded that 15 percent of workers in the hospitality/leisure industry suffer from serious alcohol-related problems, resulting in the highest alcohol dependence rate of all studied sectors. In contrast, approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population has a diagnosable alcohol problem.

The report, conducted by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at George Washington University Medical Center, ranked construction and mining second in overall prevalence, at 14.7 percent. It also concluded that in every industry included in the study ? construction, mining, wholesale trade, finance, public administration and others ? men tend to experience a higher rate of alcohol problems than women. For example, the prevalence of these problems for men in the wholesale trades (14.6 percent) is almost three times the rate for women (5.3 percent).

The report also noted that young workers are more susceptible to drinking problems. More than 18 percent of 18 to 25-year-old workers engage in problematic drinking compared to 7 percent of adults 26 years and older. These drinking problems can cause accidental injuries, interpersonal conflicts and an inability to be productive at work, the report said.

"Most employees represented in these numbers are not dependent on alcohol," said lead researcher Eric Goplerud, Ph.D., director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems. "But they do use alcohol in ways that lead to short-term safety problems and long-term health consequences."

What Employers Can Do

Employers, however, are left to pay their employees' alcoholism. Excessive alcohol use costs U.S. employers billions in lost productivity and additional health care costs every year, the report said. For example, an U.S. hotel chain with 20,000 employees would accrue $8.9 million in alcohol-related health care costs and absenteeism in a single year, according to the research team's analysis.

"The impact of alcohol problems in the workplace is a tremendous hidden challenge, in part because very few people with an alcohol problem are ever identified," said Andrew Webber, president and chief executive officer of the National Business Coalition on Health.

Researchers encouraged employers to alert workers to the dangers behind alcohol abuse, and to consider the following methods:

  • Update drug and alcohol workplace policies through redefining "under the influence," making it clear that even small amounts of alcohol consumption can negatively affect work performance.
  • Educate all employees about the health effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Support employees who work or live with problem drinkers.
  • Actively promote alcohol screening and brief intervention with employee assistance programs, health plans and health risk appraisals.

Other Tools

The report's results have been used to develop a Web-based calculator that can estimate the impact of alcohol problems and the potential cost savings to be gained through workplace screening and brief intervention, researchers said. The calculator is available at http://www.alcoholcostcalculator.org.

In addition to analyzing the scope of workplace alcohol problems, the report also promotes the adoption of a practice known as Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI), in which trained interviewers ask about drinking amounts, frequency and consequences. If employers incorporate SBI into their workplace wellness programs, the prevalence of workplace alcohol problems would decrease and companies would reap savings from lower health care costs and improved productivity.

"Alcohol problems affect every workplace, with some industries paying a tremendous price," said Dr. Goplerud. "It's in the interest of every employer to do something. Screening and brief intervention is a proven approach that promises to effectively reduce workplace alcohol problems."

The report is based on 2006 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Comorbidity Survey and gauges the effects of alcohol dependence and abuse in 13 U.S. industry sectors.

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