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One in five young accountants faces alcohol struggles

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 Jun 2023

A new study has shed light on addiction and addictive behaviours within the accountancy profession, prompting the launch of a new online hub to help those who are struggling.

One in five accountants aged 30 or under has admitted that alcohol consumption has had a negative impact on their work or personal life, according to the result of a study that paints a picture of alarming levels of addiction across the profession.

Research by the ICAEW community’s occupational charity caba, which surveyed 1,919 accountants across the UK, found that one in four regularly turn to alcohol to elevate their mood. Around 60% admitted to regularly exceeding the recommended daily intake for alcohol, while nearly one in 10 (9%) admitted to surpassing the limit on a daily basis.

At the same time, one in five respondents confessed to consuming alcohol to such an extent that they could not recall the previous evening. This trend was most prevalent among accountants under the age of 30, with one in six experiencing alcohol-induced blackouts at least once a month.

Dr Stefan Walters, psychologist and addiction specialist, says addiction is a common issue, particularly for people in high-stress, high-performance jobs: “I’ve worked with many accountants and financial professionals over the years to support them through addiction. The pressure of having to be a perfect version of yourself can take its toll and often addictive behaviours arise as a coping strategy.

“The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. There is no shame in seeking help and there’s always someone out there who will listen.”

Setting the right boundaries with alcohol

Drinking is an established part of the workplace culture in the UK and client lunches and team get-togethers regularly feature alcohol. Walters says it is up to individuals to assess their own boundaries and push back against the pressure to drink. He also believes society needs to be more understanding of individuals’ attitudes towards alcohol.

“When you are working to understand your boundaries, it is key to know the distinction between a drink with friends and having alcohol to calm your nerves,” Walters says. “If you notice that you’re using alcohol as an emotional crutch to calm or suppress your feelings, you may be more prone to developing addictive behaviours. This may feel self-soothing, or you may notice a change in intrusive thoughts about alcohol.”

Walters is working with caba to raise awareness of these invisible addictions and the detrimental impacts they have on people’s quality of life.

“Tackling the stigma around alcohol addiction matters as it can be challenging to identify whether your habit is turning into an addiction, and those suffering may feel uncomfortable asking for help due to societal perceptions. Together, we can all address this by raising awareness, educating and creating an empathetic environment that encourages support and access to effective recovery,” he says.

Other forms of addiction

The caba study also questioned respondents about other forms of addiction, including gambling and recreational drug use.

About one in 50 respondents said they regularly participate in a form of gambling such as sports betting and online casino games. Of these, almost two-thirds said they gamble at least once a week, a quarter said they spend more than £400 a month, and a third admitted to not always being open with their friends and family about their gambling habits.

One in six accountants who regularly gamble said that they had been worried about their finances as a result of their gambling habits, and one in 10 said they have had to borrow money from someone else to fund their gambling habit.

While the number of respondents who admitted to taking recreational drugs to lift their mood was low (1%), almost one in 10 (8%) stated that they had witnessed a colleague taking drugs, rising to one in seven (14%) for those aged 30 or under.

Cristian Holmes, CEO of caba, says the study’s findings supported anecdotal evidence of high rates of addiction within the sector. “This was confirmed by our finding that one in seven accountants know someone at work who they think has an addiction – but very few conversations were taking place about it. We wanted to change that.

“Our aim was to create greater awareness among employers and individuals of the signs and symptoms while pointing them in the direction of where they can get help,” he added.

How can caba help?

Holmes believes that accountants often turn to habits that are effective in lifting their moods to combat high stress levels. “Unfortunately, many of these can become addictive over time and can subsequently be detrimental to our mental, physical and financial health if left untreated.”

Holmes says the objective of the research was to raise awareness of addictive behaviour in the profession and create an open, honest dialogue that reduces the stigma that currently surrounds addiction and mental health. “We want to help people to spot the signs and to know how to get help for themselves and others,” he says.

To support members of the ICAEW community who are struggling with addiction, caba has launched a new online hub of support content for addiction, created in partnership with mental healthcare experts at Psych Health. The hub includes a series of help guides across areas including spotting the signs of addiction, getting the right help and supporting a friend or family member with an addiction

Mental health & wellbeing

ICAEW works with caba to promote the mental health of chartered accountants and their families. Take a look through these articles, guides, webinars and events.

ICAEW mental health wellbeing team bonding communication

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