High flying women hitting the bottle

Mar 01 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Women in senior executive positions are more likely to develop a drink problem than their male colleagues, according to new research. They are also more likely to have a drink problem than more junior staff.

Some 8,000 civil service employees across 20 departments took part in the study, published in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine, carried out by University College London.

Researchers found that while women at junior grades were less likely to be problem drinkers than men in similar positions, the picture was reversed at senior levels.

While men's drinking patterns remained unchanged whichever level they were at, senior female executives were more than three times as likely to be problem drinkers as women working in the lowest clerical grades.

One in seven (14 per cent) of high-flying females had a problem with alcohol, the study found, compared to four per cent of women at clerical grades.

In comparison, the instance of problem drinking among men remained roughly the same (between 10 and 12 per cent) at all grades.

Jenny Head, senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health at University College London who led the research, said that the stress of competing in a male-dominated environment and the pressure of juggling work and home life was largely to blame.

"It may be that women feel they have to compete on an equal footing and take on male roles and behaviours," she said.

"People who find they put in effort and don't feel they are getting rewards are more at risk of becoming a problem drinker."

"We have already shown that stressful conditions at work can lead to poorer health for people. This is just another way that stress can impact on health."

"They are also turning to alcohol because they feel they are not being adequately rewarded for their efforts."

A further factor is that high-achieving women are also more likely to lack the support of partners and friends.

"Senior females have to juggle home and work," she continued. "These women have moved up the ranks when equal opportunities weren't being tackled so they had to push harder to get promoted."