Non-drinkers as likely as heavy drinkers to miss more days of work, study says

The European study of more than 47,500 looked at missed work days and drinking.

The old adage "everything in moderation" looks like it applies to the balance between drinking and work, too.

A new study showed that people with more extreme drinking habits, on either end of the spectrum, are more likely to call in sick to work. While people who said they drank moderately did not have as many sick days.

"Drinking in moderation seems not to be associated with sickness absence," lead study author Dr. Jenni Ervasti, a specialized researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health told ABC News.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, is based on a wide-ranging survey on drinking across three countries in Europe, as well as employment registries on sick days.

More than 47,500 people responded to the survey, taken at two different points of time in Finland, France and the United Kingdom, that asked about alcohol use and the number of sick days reported over the course of four to seven years.

Based on their responses, they were classified into five categories ranging from people who said they didn't drink at all to those who drank moderately to those who drank heavily either in the first survey, the second or both.

Women classified as moderate drinkers had between one and 11 servings of alcohol per week and men who drank moderately had between one and 34 servings, based on European and U.K. sizes.

Heavy drinkers said they consumed more than 11 servings for women or 34 servings for men.

Absences from work came from reports in national and employer registries.

Those most likely to be absent from work for the most amount of days? The two extremes: abstainers and the higher-volume drinkers referred to as "at-risk."

Women and men who reported no alcohol use in either survey had a higher risk of "sickness absence" due to mental disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, diseases of the digestive system, and diseases of the respiratory system, even when compared to women who drink less than 11 drinks per week and men who drink less than 34 per week.

That means abstainers were at higher risk of absence than low-risk drinkers. However, some people may not drink alcohol because they have other medical conditions or take medications that preclude alcohol use.

High-volume "at-risk" drinkers in the study were also at increased risk of absence due to injury or poisoning -- which makes sense because higher alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of injury.

Ervasti said the study was surprising because the reasons non-drinkers and heavy drinkers missed the most work were different and the "U-shaped association" between the two groups that were most likely to miss work hadn't been shown in previous studies.

The study is limited in some ways, including the fact that it was conducted in Europe where lifestyle and drinking habits may be different than other places. Additionally, the information on drinking habits was self-reported.

A word of caution: Alcohol abuse and heavy consumption is still associated with many long-term medical conditions.

These results, Ervasti said, can help employers to intervene "when observing multiple absences due to external causes [like injury or poison]."

Eric M. Ascher, D.O., is a third-year family medicine resident from New York working in the ABC News Medical Unit.