Signs, Effects and Treatment of Work Addiction

Work addiction, which has given rise to the term “workaholic” for those who experience this addiction, occurs when a person’s desire to work becomes an obsession. A work addict often gets to the point where he or she does not even work to complete a necessary task or for monetary or career reward, but rather to fulfill a psychological need to work. In fact, a workaholic often reaches a stage in which the quality of his or her work becomes unsatisfactory, and his or her career may suffer as a result.

Addiction to work is classified as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and it is also a behavioral addiction. Obsessive-compulsive disorders are characterized by a combination of thoughts that become mind-encompassing obsessions, and compulsive behavior that results from a desire to satisfy the obsessive thoughts. A person addicted to work becomes obsessed with the very idea of work to the point of developing anxiety whenever he or she is not working. Therefore, work addicts continue to work regardless of whether their work is necessary and regardless of the quality of the work performed. A workaholic may well be physically too tired to complete tasks properly but will nevertheless keep on working in order to chase away the anxiety that an absence of work will cause.

work-addictionIn some cases, workaholics even feel physically ill when they are unable to work. This physical illness can be caused by the physical effects of anxiety, or it may even be traced to the same physical mechanisms that produce withdrawal symptoms in substance addicts who are unable to obtain the substance to which they are addicted.

Compulsive work may release naturally occurring chemicals that affect the brain in certain ways, just as abused drugs release such substances. When these chemicals are absent and the brain has become used to their presence, the brain reacts by sending garbled messages to the body. In substance addicts, these garbled messages lead to withdrawal symptoms; similar garbled messages, albeit not as dangerous or as unpleasant, may be the cause when a work addict feels ill due to absence of work.

Regardless of the actual medical or psychological process that leads to symptoms of physical illness among work addicts when they are not working, the symptoms disappear as soon as work is resumed.

Signs of Work Addiction

“…a desire to overwork is not always equivalent to work addiction.”Especially in today’s competitive environment, where employers, clients, and competitive colleagues create an atmosphere in which seemingly excessive work is required to get ahead, a desire to overwork is not always equivalent to work addiction. This is especially the case when work is connected to a particular talent and interest; the budding violin soloist who spends hours practicing in order to perform for international audiences is indeed dedicated to a goal in life and is probably not in danger of developing an addiction to work. An associate at a law firm whose goal is to earn a partnership in the firm knows that this requires long hours. While his or her lack of time for socializing may appear to be a sign of work addiction, the associate knows that this effort is but a sacrifice that needs to be made to achieve an important goal in life.

On the other hand, a professional who has already achieved a great deal of career success, yet never feels satisfied unless he or she is occupied with real or exaggerated professional responsibilities, may be a work addict. Work addiction is especially likely for those whose social patterns change over a period of time, to the point that a lawyer who was once interested in opera or skiing can no longer enjoy either activity and instead cuts short a ski vacation or skips an opera for which tickets have already been purchased in favor of another long night at the office. The following are some signs of work addiction:

  1. Preoccupation with work; constant thoughts or even discussions about work issues at inappropriate times
  2. Withdrawal from social activities
  3. Loss of interest in hobbies or other enjoyable activities
  4. Working despite a need for sleep or even food
  5. Working when extremely tired or even when ill
  6. Loss of ability to relax
  7. Inability to trust colleagues or subordinates to do work that they can perform on your behalf

Risks and Effects of Work Addiction

work-addictionWhen work becomes an obsession rather than a means to achieving a goal, it blocks out any sense of proportion and reality. This can damage personal relationships, as a work addict is so absorbed in work that relationships become immaterial or even a nuisance. A work addict often becomes extremely irritable, which can, ironically, cause trouble in the workplace, as colleagues, supervisors and clients find themselves unable to deal with the workaholic. Workplace issues concerning work addiction are only compounded by the often low-quality or useless work that the addict produces. A work addict will often take on more tasks than he or she can possibly complete, then leave them unfinished in order to guarantee a constant supply of work to assuage the feelings of guilt that arise when no work is available.


A workaholic actually risks losing his or her job due to the effects of addiction to work. He or she may become overabsorbed in working out of the need to assuage the anxiety produced by work addiction, rather than out of a desire to turn out quality work.

When you find that you are working harder and harder, but getting less and less done, it is time to get help for work addiction. Please call our 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week addiction recovery helpline at 1-888-287-0471 or click here to contact us online. We are here to help you help yourself or someone you care about overcome work addiction and rebuild a truly successful and balanced life.

A work addict also risks developing physical illnesses that are tied to stress, as well as diseases connected to poor eating habits. These diseases include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and digestive disorders. Work addiction can also trigger serious and disabling mental illnesses, including depression and suicidal tendencies.

Treatment Options for Work Addiction

“A work addict will deny that he or she has a problem and instead claim that any obsession with work is due to career pressures or a desire to advance professionally. “As in the case of substance addiction and other behavioral addictions, denial is often an integral part of advanced work addiction. A work addict will deny that he or she has a problem and instead claim that any obsession with work is due to career pressures or a desire to advance professionally. Considering the emphasis that society has always placed on hard work, it can be very difficult for family and friends, and even for physicians and other trusted advisors such as members of the clergy, to detect work addiction. It is even harder for colleagues, supervisors, or clients of a work addict to realize the difference between extreme dedication to service and work addiction.

Therefore, it is very difficult for the work addict to find anyone who will convince him or her to seek treatment. The impetus to treat work addiction may come only after a crisis, such as the impending breakup of a marriage. Alternately, it may come only when the work addict is told that his or her work is suffering to the point that job or business loss will result if something is not done. If the work addict is referred to a counselor or medical specialist who understands work addiction, proper treatment can begin. If not, there may be a misdiagnosis that leads to improper treatment, such as prescribing medication for the anxiety that work addiction causes without providing treatment for the addiction itself. Even incorrect diagnosis and improper treatment can be of some assistance, as it makes the addict aware that he or she has a problem that can be treated. However, only addiction treatment that includes behavioral therapy can really bring about an end to work addiction.


Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment can help a drug or alcohol addict recover from addiction and return to a substance-free life. Getting prompt treatment for your addiction is essential because long-term drug and alcohol use can have serious health effects. Read More

Unlike treatment for other addictions, which is meant to help patients discontinue any and all destructive substances or behaviors to which they are addicted, the goal of therapy for work addiction is to help a patient find balance in his or her life. Certainly, long-term or permanent unemployment is not considered a sign of success when treating work addiction.

Therefore, treatment for work addicts must deal with the root cause of the addiction and the patient’s compulsive thoughts. Medication may be of use if the work addiction is part of a general obsessive-compulsive pattern of thought and behavior. On the other hand, if the underlying issue behind a patient’s work addiction is low self-esteem, then cognitive and behavioral therapy are far more effective than any medication can possibly be. That therapy must teach the patient that self-esteem is not based solely on work performance. A patient with self-esteem issues must come to understand that self-esteem is also based on a person’s relationships and ability to achieve balance in life, while also succeeding in the workplace.

Residential treatment centers are available for the treatment of work addiction. The advantage to these centers is that patients are separated from their workplace and from any other location in which they can perform any type of work. Instead, they spend anywhere from one to three months in resort-like accommodations located in a pleasant and relaxing natural setting, such as a waterfront area. While the patient is at the center, he or she can focus entirely on finding ways to balance work with interests and activities that actually make it easier to succeed in all facets of life. Intensive behavior modification therapy is combined with meditation and other methods of self-realization to help patients rid themselves of feelings of guilt and anxiety. Music and art therapy, sports, and exercise programs lead patients to discover new activities or rekindle old interests that will help them achieve a more successful and balanced life when they return to their everyday activities.

projectknow-shutter143791594-talking-to-smiling-doctorOutpatient cognitive and behavioral therapy is available, and it is also very effective in treating work addiction. It is recommended for patients who are unable to commit to full-time therapy as well as for patients who need follow-up care and support after a successful treatment program in a residential setting. Family therapy can add to the success of treatment for addiction to work. This is especially the case if relationships within a family have been affected by work addiction or if a work addict feels that family pressure may be one of the causes of his or her addiction.

Please call 1-888-287-0471 to reach our helpline at any time of the day or night, or please click here to contact us online to find out about residential or outpatient work addiction treatment programs that can help you or someone you care about overcome addiction to work and achieve a balanced life.

Self-help peer support groups, including groups based on the time-honored 12-step approach to addiction, are available for work addicts. Participation in such groups is recommended to patients receiving outpatient therapy as well as to patients who have completed inpatient therapy. The groups show recovering addicts that they are not alone, and they allow work addicts in various stages of recovery to share the techniques they use in overcoming addiction to work.

Whenever you need advice and resources for treatment of work addiction for yourself or a loved one, please call our 24/7 helpline at 1-888-287-0471. We will help you find the right residential treatment facility or outpatient treatment specialist to help you or someone you care about break the grip of work addiction and build a healthy, enjoyable, balanced life.

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