Impact of nurses’ risky drinking behaviours

Red wine in wineglass on black background

Nursing and midwifery work can be physically, mentally, and emotionally stressful (Dyrbye et al. 2017). Like many people working in stressful roles, members of this workforce use many strategies to manage the pressures of their professions – both healthy, such as exercise and family activities, and potentially damaging, such as drinking, smoking, and displacement (Happell et al. 2012).

Recent research with ANMF/ NSWNMA members in NSW has found that regardless of age and gender, nurses have higher levels of risky drinking than the general population (Perry et al. 2018).

This is particularly worrying, as Australia is ranked on the higher end of the scale in relation to other countries by the World Health Organization for alcohol consumption per capita (WHO 2014).

Current Australian government recommendations suggest both men and women should ideally limit daily alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than four standard drinks in one occasion (Australian government 2018). Drinking more than this may increase people’s risks of long and short-term negative health and wellbeing effects.

It is concerning that a large and vital segment of Australia’s health workforce may themselves be at greater risk of the potentially damaging health impacts of drinking.

Beyond the possible personal harms that higher levels of drinking are associated with, what implications might this have for the role of nurses and midwives in public health? Healthcare professionals including nurses and midwives are often regarded as important contributors to health promotion in the community.

However, little empirical evidence exists around how personal behaviours impact upon this activity.

A 2017 review found inconsistent and limited evidence regarding the relationship between the personal actions of nurses and their practice of health promotion activities (Kelly et al. 2017).

This review however, did not locate any studies addressing nurses’ drinking behaviours. The review did find that nurses who engaged in unhealthy behaviours (eg. smoking, poor physical activity, diet, and weight) may be less positive in relation to health promotion and that conversely, those who felt that discussing health behaviours with consumers was important were more likely to do so.

It is also not clear whether consumers are more or less likely to trust or act upon health advice from nurses who do or do not practice healthy behaviours.

While we don’t know the full picture regarding the impact of nurses’ and midwives’ personal choices regarding drinking upon their capacity to convey health messages to the public, we do know the potential long and short-term risks and impacts associated with the consumption of alcohol.

We do know that the delivery of training and having a supportive working environment may actually influence nurse engagement with health promotion (Kelly et al. 2017). We also know that nurses and midwives face a great deal of stress and pressure in their work, as well as more sinister issues such as bullying and violence (Hartin et al. 2018), which can also be linked to alcohol consumption (Karata et al. 2016).

Together with the findings that nurses may engage in riskier drinking than the general Australian population, it is of great importance that nurses and midwives are supported to make healthy lifestyle decisions, which while personal, may be linked with professional capacity in health promotion.

Actions and interventions should focus on ways to support and protect nurses and midwives both within and beyond workplaces to be safe, healthy, happy, and productive as individuals and as community members.

Dr Micah DJ Peters is ANMF National Policy Research Adviser (Federal Office), Rosemary Bryant AO ResearchCentre, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Division of Health Sciences, The University of South Australia, Adelaide.


Australian government. 2009. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Accessed Jun 2018

Dyrbye, L.N., Shanafelt, T.D., Sinsky C.A., Cipriano, P.F., Bhatt, J., Ommaya, A., et al. 2017. Burnout Among Health Care Professionals: A Call to Explore and Address This Underrecognized Threat to Safe, High-Quality Care. National Academy of Medicine (NAM). burnout-among-health-care-professionals-a-call-to-explore-and-address-this-underrecognized-threat-to-safe-high-quality-care/ Accessed Jun 2018.

Happell, B, Reid-Searl, K, Dwyer, T, Caperchione, C.M., Gaskin, C.J. and Burke, K.J. 2013. How nurses cope with occupational stress outside their workplaces. Collegian. 20(3):195-9.

Hartin, P, Burkes, M. and Lindsay, D. 2018. Bullying and the nursing profession in Australia: An integrative review of the literature. Collegian. [In Press]. colegn.2018.06.004 Accessed Jun 2018.

Karata, C., Zyga, S. Tziaferi, S. and Prezerakos, P. 2016. Workplace bullying and general health status among the nursing staff of Greek public hospitals. Annals of General Psychiatry.57(7). DOI 10.1186/s12991-016- 0097-z Accessed Jun 2018.

Kelly, M,, Wills, J, and Sykes, S. 2017. Do nurses’ personal health behaviours impact on their health promotion practice? A systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 76:62-77.

Perry, L. Xu, X., Gallagher, R. Nicholls, R. Sibbritt, D. and Duffield C., 2018. Lifestyle Health Behaviors of Nurses and Midwives: The ‘Fit for the Future’ Study.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 15(5):945-61.

World Health Organization (WHO) Global status report on alcohol and health. 2014. World Health Organization. Geneva. publications/alcohol/en/ Accessed Jun 2018.

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