Alcohol Addiction Linked to 232 Million Missed Workdays Annually

Downtrending graph, business meeting

The overall health of the American economy acts as a predictor of the quality of life for a significant majority of Americans. Those in the middle and lower-income demographics are deeply affected by economic fluctuations. The difference between an affluent economy and a recession is the difference between prosperity and hardship for many households.

With that in mind, the revelation that alcohol addiction is linked to 232 million missed workdays each year is startling. That means the American economy is being negatively impacted by nationwide alcohol addiction. Hundreds of millions of lost workdays significantly reduce GDP (Gross Domestic Product, i.e., the monetary value of goods and services produced in a nation in any given year).

Not only is alcohol addiction severely harming the millions of Americans who are addicted to alcohol (and their families), but the negative economic effects of widespread alcohol addiction act as a dragging weight on all Americans, supporting the theory that there is a collective need for the American people to come together and ensure those hooked on alcohol receive professional help.

Alcohol Addiction and Missed Workdays

Drunk man at home

A study conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine and published in JAMA Network Open found that heavy alcohol use is closely associated with missing work. According to the data, about 9% of American adults employed full-time (accounting for some 11 million people) meet the criteria for alcohol addiction. Further, such individuals reported missing 32 days of work per year due to illness, injury, or simply skipping work. That figure of 32 missed workdays is more than double the number of workdays missed by full-time workers who are not addicted to alcohol.

Eleven million full-time workers missing more than a month’s worth of workdays per year adds up quickly. According to the researchers, even when other extenuating circumstances are considered (such as missed work circumstances not connected to alcohol addiction), workers are still missing 232 million workdays due to alcohol addiction.

“Alcohol use disorder is a major problem in the United States and a big problem in many workplaces, where it contributes to a significant number of workdays missed.”

In their study, the researchers strongly encouraged employers, family members, public health leaders, and policymakers to place treatment at the forefront of potential solutions to the problem. The senior investigator in the research, Dr. Laura J. Bierut, even referenced how it is fiscally sensible for employers to ensure their employees get treatment. In her own words, “Alcohol use disorder is a major problem in the United States and a big problem in many workplaces, where it contributes to a significant number of workdays missed. The problem likely has worsened during the pandemic, and we need to try to do more to ensure that people can get the help they need to deal with alcohol use disorder.” She then went on to say, “The new data also point to an economic incentive for employers and policymakers to address the issue.” It would undoubtedly be a win-win for all involved if employers, employees, and family members put treatment at the forefront for those addicted to alcohol.

The researchers went a step further in their findings, extrapolating how many days of work were missed compared to how much employees drank. According to their findings:

  • Those surveyed who did not meet the criteria for alcohol addiction missed approximately 13 workdays annually.
  • Those surveyed who just barely met the criteria for alcohol addiction missed approximately 18 days.
  • Those who met the criteria and were in the middle range of alcohol abuse missed 24 days.
  • Those who misused alcohol heavily missed 32 days of work.

In addition to 232 million missed workdays, the researchers found that employees who are missing 32 days of work per year are also frequently losing their jobs. Employee turnaround, the phenomenon of firing employees and then hiring and training new employees, also put a serious drain on economic production. In addition to missed workdays, one could safely assume that significant employee turnaround contributes to economic slowdown.

Young worker is getting fired

But rather than alcohol addiction being used as an employer’s excuse to fire employees (and then having to scout, recruit, hire, and train new employees), Dr. Bierut argues that employers should use their elevated position to help addicted employees, as only by helping them seek treatment can the revolving door of addiction in the workplace be permanently closed. In Dr. Bierut’s words, “Often, people who miss that much work lose their jobs. But our hope is that the workplace might be a point of contact where intervention can occur. You’re there eight hours a day, and when an employer begins seeing these difficulties, perhaps instead of firing a person, they could take action to assist with that individual’s recovery.” Truly, employers should focus on how they can empower employees to seek treatment, not on firing them and simply hiring new employees (who might also struggle with alcohol addiction).

Finally, the researchers found that although full-time workers who struggle with alcohol addiction only represent 9% of the full-time workforce, they account for over 14% of total workplace absences. This is not a problem that goes away by employers firing alcohol-addicted employees and then hiring new employees. This problem goes away by employers committing themselves to resolving the problem at its source, i.e., insisting that addicted employees seek treatment.

The Overall Crisis of Alcohol Addiction in the U.S.

It is no mystery that alcohol addiction is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 14.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol, yet only about 414,000 receive treatment annually (7% of those who need treatment).

In addition to the stark economic toll of 232 million missed workdays and an approximate fiscal cost of $249 billion annually, alcohol addiction is often fatal. Approximately 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year. Beyond the sheer loss of life and the economic crisis, alcohol addiction also devastates families. About 10% of U.S. children are born into a home with at least one alcohol-addicted parent. That is particularly concerning given that children who grow up with an alcohol-addicted parent are far more likely to themselves develop an addiction to alcohol than children who grow up with parents who do not misuse alcohol.

Addiction Treatment, A Wise Investment for Business Owners

Helping employee

As the researchers in the above-cited study noted and as so many other experts have pointed out, it is of the utmost importance that those who struggle with alcohol addiction seek treatment as soon as possible. Alcohol addiction is a life or death affliction. And beyond the addict’s own life, it is clear from the findings that this national health crisis harmfully impacts all Americans in a number of ways, including public health issues, family difficulties, and economic strife.

If you know someone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, please do everything you can to get them professional help. Please don’t let them go another day without finding a way out of their addiction trap. Please contact a qualified, residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.