It’s been a long eight-hour day – most of which was spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair and staring at a computer screen, racking your brain to produce quality work. But the thought of the clock striking 5 p.m. and enjoying the weekend gets you through stressful workweeks. All the effort put in day after day can finally be repaid. The motto “work hard, play hard” is familiar to most, with many claiming to live by it.

Americans work more than ever before, with many working over 40 hours a week. Alcohol consumption has also increased, posing the question: Are the two connected? Are employees working harder, and then repaying themselves by “playing” harder? We surveyed over 800 employees across the country, getting the details on their work and substance use. Keep reading to see how many Americans participate in the lifestyle and what that can mean for their health.

Working Overtime

As Americans work longer hours, take their work home, and constantly check their email, eight-hour workdays are becoming a thing of the past. The average American now works 8.8 hours a day, or 44 hours per week. Considering this, it makes sense that 66% of respondents reported feeling overworked in the past year.

Respondents also failed to adhere to strict eight-hour days and 40-hour workweeks. On average, they worked 3.4 hours of overtime each week, greatly varying based on work sentiment. Those who didn’t feel overworked spent an average of 1.8 hours working overtime, while those who did feel overworked spent an average of 4.4 extra hours working.

Coping With Substances

Stress can come from a variety of things – working long hours, having low job satisfaction, unclear expectations, or simply being overloaded with responsibilities. However, with stress comes methods of relieving it. All too often, people turn to drink to relax and blow off steam. People who reported feeling overworked were more likely to drink alcohol in the past year, have more drinks per session, and participate in more drinking sessions per month.

Compared to nearly 76% of those who didn’t feel overworked, 83.2% of those who felt overworked reported drinking in the past year, averaging 5.6 drinking sessions per month. In each of those sessions, overworked employees had an average of 3.7 drinks. On the other hand, employees who didn’t feel overworked had an average of five drinking sessions per month, in which they consumed an average of 3.1 drinks.

Binge drinking is the deadliest form of excessive alcohol use, defined as men consuming five or more drinks and women consuming four or more drinks in two hours. While the average number of drinks overworked employees consumed per session came pretty close to the qualifications, 37.8% said they didn’t binge drink. Their counterparts were less likely to consume alcohol excessively, with 57.6% of respondents who weren’t overworked saying they didn’t binge drink.

Of overworked employees who admitted to binge drinking, the majority did so at least once a week. Compared to 17.4% binge drinking a few times a year and 20.4% binge drinking at least once a month, 22.6% reported drinking excessively at least once a week.

Turning to substances to de-stress doesn’t stop at alcohol, though. Recreational drug use (and abuse) is heavily linked to stress, and employees who felt overworked were more likely to use recreational drugs in the past year. While 38% of overworked employees reported drug use in the past year, only 22% of employees, who didn’t feel overworked reported use.

The drugs employees turned to also differ greatly. While cannabis products were the most used across both overworked and non-overworked employees, those who felt overworked were more likely to turn to depressants, stimulants, opioids, and hallucinogens.

In A Position to Drink

Health impacts of alcohol use seem to affect younger generations more than ever; however, millennials seem to be cutting back on alcohol. With millennials flooding the workforce and likely occupying lower-level positions as they work their way up, are the drinking habits of younger Americans reflected in the positions they hold?

Midlevel employees reported the highest number of drinking sessions per month, averaging 5.9 but consumed 3.6 drinks per session. Senior-level and executive employees reported the least number of drinking sessions per month (an average of 4.7) but consumed the highest average number of drinks per session (3.7). Associate and entry-level employees participated in more drinking sessions per month compared to executives but consumed 3.2 and 3.3 drinks per session, respectively.

When looking at recreational drug use, the percentage of employees reporting use increased as job positions got higher. Only 22.6% of associate-level employees reported using recreational drugs, while nearly 46% of senior-level or executive employees said the same.While it’s not entirely clear why the difference between positions is so significant, the amount of work each level of employee is responsible for may impact stress levels and subsequent drug use.

After-Work Drinks

Lifestyles are constantly changing, and as technology makes nearly everything more convenient, going out seems to be a less-enticing option. Despite Americans staying in, employees who feel overworked are still hitting the bars. Compared to just under 12% of employees who didn’t feel overworked, 19.6% of overworked employees reported going out at least once a week. Employees who didn’t feel overworked were also more likely not to go out at all – 36.5% of non-overworked employees said they didn’t go out, while only 28.1% of overworked employees said the same.

Those who reported feeling overworked were more likely to tag along with co-workers when going out after work. While 42.6% of employees who didn’t feel overworked reported not going out with co-workers, 28% of overworked employees did at least once a month, and 16.6% went out with co-workers at least once a week.

Overworked employees were also more likely to go out after work with their boss. However, it wasn’t as common as going out with co-workers. Of those who did choose to go out with their boss, the majority did so only a few times a year.

Whether employees hit the bar with co-workers or superiors, those who reported being overworked spent more on a night out than their non-overworked counterparts.

Overworked employees spent an average of $84, $15 more than non-overworked employees, but they only spent $3 more than the national average. Still, consistently going out at least once a week can add up quickly.

Roots of the Lifestyle

Stress is an obvious side effect of working in America and a known risk factor for substance use, but is it the main factor in employees’ after-work habits? Over one-third of respondents reported regularly using alcohol or recreational drugs after a period of hard work. Women were more likely to go out and turn to substances to relax, while men were more likely to do the same to cope with stress.

Men were also more likely to succumb to pressure from co-workers and friends, with 13.4% and 11.6%, respectively, naming the pressure as their reason for going out and engaging in substance use.

Not embracing the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, however, was seen as disadvantageous to the workplace by nearly half of respondents. Viewing it as a disadvantage could relate to the effect that turning down invitations has on co-worker relationships, but it could also be due to the decrease in stress people get from going out after work. Relieving stress increases job satisfaction, but going out and “playing hard” is certainly not the only way to do so.

Consequences of Play

Living the life of “work hard, play hard” may be in an attempt to relieve stress or reward yourself for hard work, but the lifestyle is not free of consequences. Thirty-seven percent of women reported dealing with anxiety due to working and playing hard, and 30.6% reported issues with depression. Anxiety and depression were also common among men, but they were more likely to suffer from memory loss and high blood pressure compared to their female counterparts.

Becoming overworked can bring its issues, but add substance use to the mix, and people’s health is sure to suffer. Aside from the immediate effects of drugs, when substance use starts to negatively impact daily routines, health, work, and personal or professional relationships, the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle may be leaning more toward a substance use disorder.

Work Hard for Sobriety

Hard work has always been valued, and the road to success usually entails giving it your all. But in a society where overworking is normal, people have turned to “playing hard” too. While this can mean many things, employees who felt overworked tended to turn to alcohol and other substances to relax and take a load off. This lifestyle may reward hardworking employees with much-deserved relaxation, but working hard and playing hard is simply not sustainable.

Turning to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism not only leads to various health issues, but also it can quickly turn into a bigger problem.

Forgoing healthier coping mechanisms and relying on drugs and alcohol to relieve stress or other negative emotions often leads to physical and mental dependence.

Once dependence settles in, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction are sure to follow.

Work hard play hard written on a chalkboard

Recognizing the signs of addiction and getting the help you need is vital to stopping dependence in its tracks and living a healthy, sober life.

At Delphi Behavioral Health Group, we are here to provide you or your loved one with a personalized and comprehensive treatment plan designed to fit your needs.

To learn more about addiction and our various treatment facilities, visit us online today.


For this project, we surveyed 814 employed respondents about their work life and substance use during their time off. 657 of the respondents reported drinking alcohol and 265 reported recreational drug use in the past year. 562 respondents had been to a bar or club in the past year. 537 respondents felt overworked in the past year, and 288 participated in a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle. “Work hard, play hard” in the context of our survey was defined as regularly indulging in leisure (going out, drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs, etc.) after a period of hard work.

Job positions were represented as follows: 235 respondents in associate-level positions; 139 respondents in entry-level positions; 331 respondents in midlevel positions; and 109 executives and respondents in management positions.

51% of respondents identified as men, and 49% identified as women. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 69 with an average age of 36 and a standard deviation of 10.5.

Outliers have been excluded in the data reflecting the average number of drinking sessions, the amount of money spent, and hours worked.

Our data rely on self-reporting by the respondents. Issues with self-reported data include but are not limited to the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. No statistical testing was performed. It is possible that with a greater number of respondents, our results would have looked differently.

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