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New study reveals hazardous drinking patterns in university employees

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Posted December 9, 2014
Wine glass. Image source: SplitShire/pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain

Wine glass. Image source: SplitShire/pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain

There is a large body of evidence to suggest that students, no longer under constant supervision by their parents, engaged in regular bouts of heavy drinking for as long as there were universities. However, apart from anecdotal accounts and some quasi-mythical stories about a number of brilliant, but troubled professors who tried to cope with their problems by ingesting large amounts of alcoholic beverages, much less is known about the drinking patterns of university employees.

In order to bridge this gap, Susanna Awoliyi, David Ball, Norman Parkinson and Victor R. Preedy from King’s College in London devised a descriptive cross-sectional study which involved 131 employees from an unnamed UK university who had to complete the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) – an alcohol screening tool, designed by the World Health Organization to detect hazardous drinking patterns.

An analysis of the collected data painted a fairly dire picture – based on the AUDIT scores, more than a third of respondents were classified as heavy drinkers, which, according to the research team, “is one of the highest levels ever reported”. 23% of the subjects admitted to having blackouts caused by drinking and 14% experienced physical trauma or caused injuries to others. Somewhat ironically, employees of science and health-related departments had three times the risk of becoming hazardous drinkers compared to the employees of central departments. Males were significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than women – 43% and 30% respectively. Age, religion and ethnicity were not found to be strongly correlated with unhealthy drinking habits, although total scores were significantly lower for ethnic minorities compared to white employees.

The researchers believe that the high prevalence of heavy drinking revealed by their study might be due to environmental factors like availability of alcohol, stress and workplace culture: ”This university is located in an inner city where employees may be under a higher level of stress compared to their counterparts in the outskirts. Some studies have demonstrated significant differences in patterns of consumption between occupations, which suggests that workplace environments may influence employee alcohol consumption differentially.”

Despite the high costs that alcohol abuse inflicts upon the taxpayers and the dangers associated with heavy-drinking academic employees who are responsible for the performance and social well-being of their students, a fast and easy solution is unlikely: “Further work is needed to determine the implications of hazardous drinking on work productivity and safety, and the impact of brief intervention in the university setting.”

Original research article: Awoliyi S, Ball D, Parkinson N, Preedy VR (2014) Alcohol Misuse among University Staff: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS ONE 9(7): e98134. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098134

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