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December 14, 2000

Researchers Find No Link Between Problem Drinking and on the Job Injuries: Workplace Hazards Stronger Predictors of Risk

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have found no evidence for a strong link between problem drinking and on-the-job injuries. In fact, for young workers in the United States, common occupational injuries (excluding sprains and strains) do not appear to be strongly associated with alcohol dependence. The report can be found in the December 2000 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

"Heavy drinking and alcohol dependence are already established as important risk factors for injuries outside the workplace and so it has often been assumed that problem drinking is responsible for many workplace injuries," said study co-author Gordon Smith, MD, MPH, associate professor, Epidemiology and Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. "In the study, we were looking to see if the same strong connection between the two did in fact exist."

Researchers examined the relationship between heavy drinking, alcohol dependence, and injuries at work by using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), an ongoing panel study funded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Compared with previous studies, the current work took a more precise approach to analyzing data, ensuring that more accurate information was gathered, including estimating workplace hazard exposure.

Researchers, working on this study, based their findings on interviews taken with 8,569 subjects in 1989 who had originally been part of an ongoing study conducted by NLSY since 1979. The main requirement for these study subjects was that they needed to have worked for any length of time within six months of their interview.

Current drinkers were subdivided into categories: heavy (or binge) drinkers, those who were alcohol-dependant, and other drinkers. A study subject was defined as a current drinker if he or she had consumed alcohol within 30 days prior to the interview. A drink was defined as a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of hard liquor, all of which have approximately the same alcohol content.

The study's statistical analyses were unable to provide consistent evidence that reported heavy drinking or alcohol dependence strongly increased the risk of injury at work among young workers in the U.S. labor force.  Although the raw data initially showed those reporting one or more episodes of heavy drinking within the previous month to be approximately twice as likely to be injured on the job as those who were not currently drinking, this result became statistically insignificant once the danger of one's job and education the job requires were taken to consideration.

The researchers concluded that the importance of such confounding factors made it impossible at this time to make a direct link between being a heavy drinker or being alcohol dependent and job-related injuries. While alcohol is clearly and important factor in most off the job injuries the hazards of the workplace appear to be the most important factors for on the job injuries. More research needs to be done, they said, before any definitive conclusions can be made.

This study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.