A new study has found that binge drinking among women has a “significant association” with long-term unemployment.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute analyzed data on 13,031 Swedish residents, 20 to 59 years of age, who were currently employed or on leave. More than half — 55 percent — were women.
Data was collected during two surveys, one in 2002 and another in 2007, and included one question about the frequency of binge drinking, which was defined as consuming an amount corresponding to at least 37 centiliters (cl) of spirits at a single occasion in 2002.
In 2007, the question was changed to six or more drinks, corresponding to at least 24 cl (about 8 ounces) of spirits.
“For women, binge drinking once a week or more as a predictor was associated with long-term unemployment,” said Mona C. Backhans, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher as well as corresponding author for the study.
“For both men and women, initial associations between frequent binges and any unemployment were explained by the characteristics of the binge drinkers — younger, lower educational qualifications — and in addition for men, more previous unemployment.”
When analyzed as an outcome of unemployment, there were no associations between unemployment and later binge drinking for men.
On the other hand, 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.”
Backhans added it is important to continue researching this topic, in various settings and subgroups, and with various measures of alcohol drinking and problems.
“A question here is to what extent a single question on binge drinking can be said to reflect or predict alcohol problems — something that may differ between settings and subgroups,” she said.
“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. Also, women are included, which is still rare.”
“In addition, since women’s employment is almost on a par with men in this setting, they are not a selected group, as they should be in societies where women’s employment rates are low.”
For the women in this group, added Backhans, binge drinking clearly preceded rather than was preceded by unemployment. “However, in times of distress it is always wise to watch one’s alcohol intake, whether you are male or female,” she said.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Source: Karolinska Institutet