Unemployment can increase total drinking, alcohol disorders, and/or problem drinking says a study. On the other hand, other studies have found that unemployment can decrease drinking or have no effect at all.
Now, an analysis of binge drinking as either a predictor or outcome of unemployment has found that binge drinking among women seems to have a significant association with long-term unemployment.
"Problem drinking while employed could impact on your ability to perform work tasks, due to hang-overs, health problems caused by drinking, frequent absences, or actual 'drunk working,'" explained Mona C. Backhans, a postdoctoral researchers at the Karolinska Institutet as well as corresponding author for the study.
Backhans and her colleagues analyzed data on 13,031 Swedish residents (45 percent males), 20 to 59 years of age, and currently employed or on leave. The data were collected during two surveys, one in 2002 and another in 2007, and included one question about the frequency of binge drinking.
Binge drinking was defined as consuming an amount corresponding to at least 37 cl of spirits at a single occasion in 2002. In 2007, the question was changed to the third AUDIT question and referred to six or more drinks, corresponding to at least 24 cl of spirits.
"For women, binge drinking once a week or more as a predictor was associated with long-term unemployment," said Backhans.
When analyzed as an outcome of unemployment, there were no associations between unemployment and later binge drinking for men. Conversely, there were initial associations between long-term unemployment and frequent binges for women, but this was explained by the characteristics of those who became unemployed, Backhans noted, such as prior drinking habits.
"These gender differences reflect the fact that frequent binge drinking probably is a stronger marker for problem drinking for women, as it is less common, and not 'normalized' to the extent that it is for men," said Backhans.
"Also, the measure itself may be biased as it refers to the same level of consumption for both men and women, even though women's tolerance levels for alcohol tend to be lower," she stated.
Backhans believes it is important to continue researching this topic, in various settings and subgroups, and with various measures of alcohol drinking and problems.
"A strength of our study is that we have been able to adjust both for unemployment and binge drinking prior to the exposure, which enhances the validity of findings, in that they are more likely to be causal than otherwise," Backhans noted.
For the women in this group, she added, binge drinking clearly preceded rather than was preceded by unemployment.
Results will be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.