In Brief

Teetotallers take more days off sick than moderate drinkers, study finds

Researchers say non-drinkers have up to 50% higher risk of absence from work for a host of physical and mental ailments

People who don’t drink alcohol are far more likely to take time off work for sick leave than people who drink in moderation, according to a new study.

Researchers led by a team at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health analysed absence records and survey results from more than 47,000 people in Britain, France and Finland. The study found that moderate drinkers tend to be healthier than people at the extreme ends of the alcohol consumption scale - teetotallers and alcoholics.

Both excessive and non-drinkers were between 20% and 50% more likely to take a significant amount of time off work for ailments including mental disorders, muscles and bone problems and illnesses of the stomach and lungs. The researchers excluded from their results people who had stopped drinking explicitly for the sake of their health.

Women who consumed between one and 11 units of alcohol a week, and men who consumed between one and 34 units, had the lowest risk of taking at least a week off work through illness. One bottle of wine contains around ten units. 

Abstinence has “reached record levels among Britain’s youth, with the country increasingly polarised between people who like a drop very much and those awho would never touch one”, The Times reports.

According to Office for National Statistics estimates, around 7.8 million people regularly binged on alcohol last year, while a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds, and a similar proportion of over-65s, avoided it altogether, the newspaper adds.

Jenni Ervasti, the study’s lead author, said that heavy drinkers might also “end up stopping work, whether through becoming effectively unemployable or taking early retirement to spend more time in the pub”.

“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 diagnoses of sickness absence in the two groups,” she explained. “Some diseases, or their treatment, prevent alcohol use, which may explain the excess risks among abstainers.

“Moreover, participants to whom at-risk drinking causes health problems may be selected out of the labour market - that is, if they retire early or become unemployed.”

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