Our $3bn hangover

Excess drinking at weekends puts a tax on a body’s immune system. Picture: Simon O’DwyerHangovers are causing 11.5 million ‘‘sick days’’ a year at a cost of $3 billion to the Australian economy, new research suggests.

There are also fears that people who are mixing alcohol with amphetamines on the weekends are experiencing ‘‘Weepy Wednesdays’’ because of the delayed effects of their drug use, making them irritable and unreliable workers.

A Flinders University study found the more alcohol and/or drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. After tallying the cost of this lost productivity at $3 billion a year – up from $1.2 billion in alcohol-related absenteeism alone in 2001 – researchers said employers should be looking at ways to promote a healthier culture in their workplace especially around alcohol, which is by far the biggest problem.

Researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction looked at data from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which asked more than 12,000 people about their habits and how often they missed work, university or school because of them.

While most (56 per cent) drank alcohol at low risk levels (four or less drinks on one occasion), 27 per cent drank at risky levels (five to 10 drinks in one session) and 9 per cent drank at a high risk level (more than 11 drinks in one stint).

When asked about illicit drug use, 7 per cent used drugs yearly, 3 per cent did so monthly and 5 per cent used weekly.

Using the participants’ responses, the researchers estimated Australians missed a total of 1.6 million days due to alcohol and about 854,000 days due to drug use that year, with rates of absence increasing with riskier and more frequent consumption.

The researchers then used two measures to work out the cost. The first measure multiplied the self-reported number of days missed by $267.70 (one day’s wage plus 20 per cent employer on-costs). The second measure calculated the amount of any illness/injury absenteeism attributable to alcohol and drug use by estimating the average difference in absence for those who used alcohol or drugs compared to abstainers. This figure was also multiplied by $267.70.

On the first measure, 2.5 million days were lost annually, costing $680m. On the second, 11.5m days were lost annually, costing $3b.

Lead study autho, Ann Roche, said people indulging in alcohol and drugs on the weekend may not realise it is causing their stomach upset, headache or worsening cold by Monday, making the second measure arguably more reliable.

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