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Non-Drinkers Are As Likely To Miss Work As Heavy Drinkers: Study

Jun 07, 2018 01:49 AM EDT

Drink responsibly — and in moderation. A new study shows that non-drinkers and heavy drinkers both take more sick days off work than regular moderate drinkers.

One would think that cutting off alcohol can do wonders with work attendance, but researchers say that abstaining isn't necessarily the answer. Apparently, complete abstainees are just as likely to miss work than heavy drinkers.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, had a reference group of moderate drinkers: women who drink 1 to 11 units of alcohol every week as well as men who drink 1 to 34 units of alcohol every week.

Participants included men and women from Finland, France, and the United Kingdom.

Non-Drinkers, Heavy Drinkers Are More Sick

Compared to the reference group, men and women who don't drink were shown to have a higher risk of absence from sickness. However, this is due to conditions such as mental disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, digestive system diseases, and respiratory system diseases.

"Our findings demonstrate that the U-shaped association — higher risk of sickness absence among both abstainers and average drinkers — relates to a different set of diagnosis of sickness absence for the two groups," Dr. Jenni Ervasti, the study's lead author from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, explains in a statement. She adds that there are diseases or treatments that prohibit alcohol use, and this can explain the additional risks of a number of abstainers.

Meanwhile, high-volume drinkers — those who consume alcohol more than the risk threshold of 11 units for women and 34 units for men — are also likely to miss work. However, it's for a different reason: injury or poisoning.

"Moreover, participants to whom at-risk drinking causes health problems may be selected out from the labor market, that is, if they retire early or become unemployed," Ervasti continues, adding that this means adverse effects of drinking do not reflect on sick absences at work.

What About Moderate Drinkers?

Keeping alcohol consumption reasonable seems to be the key. While the extreme ends of the drinking spectrum can call in sick more frequently, people who take their cocktails at a reasonable volume don't seem to see a negative effect on work attendance.

"Drinking in moderation seems not to be associated with sickness absence," Ervasti tells ABC News.

This recent study has its limitation, though, particularly since it observed participants in Europe where people have different drinking habits than in the United States. The data on drinking habits are also self-reported, which may be taken with a grain of salt.

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