Workaholics Anonymous is a peer support group wherein participants follow the traditional 12 steps to overcome work addiction. There are no fees to join, and the only membership requirement is that you have a desire to stop working compulsively. This applies to professional work as well as housework, hobbies, and volunteering—if you have a problematic relationship with your work, you are welcome to join, with meetings held in multiple sites internationally.1
Approximately 1/3 of the American working population self-identifies as a workaholic. And work addiction tends to be more prevalent in some careers than others, with estimates stating that 22-25% of female physicians, psychologists, and attorneys show signs of workaholism.2
If you are troubled by workaholic tendencies, Workaholics Anonymous can be an important resource by introducing you to the experiences, strength, and hope of peers experiencing similar issues in a safe and supportive environment. Many people choose to attend meetings while completing therapy or other forms of treatment for workaholism, as well as using meetings as part of their aftercare plan following treatment.1
The Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
While behavioral addictions don’t focus primarily on a substance, getting treatment for them is just as important. Treatment programs exist to help you work through the issues that created and support your addiction to work.
The 12-step programs, including Workaholics Anonymous, play an important role in recovery for many people struggling with different forms of addiction—including work addiction. While the 12 steps of Workaholics Anonymous are virtually identical to those for Alcoholics Anonymous, their goals differ somewhat, for obvious reasons. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs typically strive for complete abstinence from alcohol or any other drug of choice. Likewise, 12-step programs for certain behavioral addictions, such as Gamblers Anonymous, sets goals for complete abstinence from gambling.
Workaholics Anonymous is unique in that members do not seek complete abstinence from work, since most people depend on the resources earned from working to survive. Instead they seek abstinence from compulsive working and related behaviors, and learn how to relate to their profession in a healthier and more balanced way. Through the support of peers and the guidance of mentors further along in their own recovery process, workaholics diminish their feelings of guilt and shame surrounding work addiction, make peace with their past, and gain hope for the future.
While Workaholics Anonymous plays an important role in recovery, it is not the exclusive road to recovery—many people often need additional treatment. While seeking professional treatment is often the last thing on the mind of a workaholic, both inpatient and outpatient behavioral addiction treatment centers offer treatment for those with work addiction. Inpatient treatment may be the best option for those with severe work addiction, because it completely removes them from their work environment for a designated period of time.
Work addiction treatment usually consists of a combination of:
- Individual counseling.
- Group therapy.
- Family or relationship counseling (if applicable).
- 12-step programs.
- Peer support groups.
- Aftercare planning.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and holistic approaches are common therapeutic types used for work addiction. Some cognitive behavioral strategies that may be used in work addiction therapy include:
- Cognitive restructuring (changing one’s thoughts about self and work).
- Problem-solving skills.
- Setting realistic goals.
- Changing one’s relationship to work.
- Decision-making for work-life balance.
- Time management.
- Organizational skills.
- Changing the pace of completing work-related tasks.
Holistic approaches for workaholism address how work addiction affects your life on all levels: mind, body, and spirit. Because work itself is not the problem, but rather an overabundance of work, the goal of holistic treatment is to restore a healthy balance in your life through the use of:
- Relaxation techniques.
- Nutritional counseling and dietary changes.
- Exercise regimens.
- Stress management.
- Sleep hygiene.
- Mental health counseling to deal with negative emotions or behavior patterns that contribute to or arise out of workaholism.
- Medical assistance for physical health problems caused or worsened by workaholism (i.e. high blood pressure).
- Assertiveness training.
- Integration of spiritual and existential issues.
Regardless of the treatment approach you choose, remaining in a 12-step support group upon completing initial treatment is an excellent means of relapse prevention because of the continuous support you receive through regular meetings and personal sponsorship—a mentor you can call upon when you feel you might relapse. Staying involved in Workaholics Anonymous as part of your aftercare program serves to remind you of the negative consequences of your addiction, while also reinforcing your decision to abstain from compulsive working.
What Is Work Addiction?
What exactly is work addiction? You might be most familiar with the term “workaholism”, coined in 1971 by Wayne E. Oates. He defined it as an “uncontrollable need to work incessantly” and considered it both a lifestyle imbalance as well as a behavioral health addiction similar to alcoholism. He defined a workaholic as “a person whose need for work has become so excessive that it creates noticeable disturbance or interference with his bodily health, personal happiness, and interpersonal relationships, and with his smooth social functioning.”2
It can often be difficult for people suffering from work addiction to recognize that they have a problem. In our society, a strong work ethic and desire to succeed are highly esteemed virtues. Many people tend to look down on laziness, but see productivity and hard work as strengths and accomplishments. While working hard is certainly not a bad thing, working so much that other areas of your life begin to suffer can be a problem.
When work takes significant precedence over family, friendships, physical health, and civic duties, life can veer out of balance. Workaholism can be just as devastating to a family as drug addiction, alcoholism, and other behavioral health disorders. Some of the many negative consequences that may occur as a result of work addiction include:2
- Burnout: no longer enjoying work due to excessive amount of time and energy spent on work.
- Imbalanced life: neglecting other areas of your life to focus on work.
- Limited social life.
- Relationship and family problems.
- Sleep deprivation.
- Higher stress levels.
- High blood pressure.
- Weight gain or weight loss.
- Feelings of guilt and anxiety when not working.
- Mental health problems (anxiety, depression)
While work addiction has some similarities with drug addiction, it has fewer physical dangers and legal consequences and more personal benefits than drug addiction or alcoholism.
Some benefits a person might receive from excessive working include:2
- Job promotions.
- Extra income.
- Raises or bonuses.
- Praise from supervisors, coworkers.
Despite these benefits, workaholism can still create many negative consequences for people and can increase the risk of drug abuse and alcoholism. Workaholics may turn to alcohol or drugs as a means of unwinding after a long work day or may self-medicate for mental health symptoms they may experience because of their work addiction. Others may start abusing alcohol or drugs after a job loss since people with work addiction place so much emphasis on their work, losing a job can negatively impact their self-esteem and self-worth, which may lead them to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Signs and Symptoms of Workaholism
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) does not list work addiction as a mental health diagnosis, nor does it provide any diagnosable criteria for the condition. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that are typically present when your work habits have crossed the line into work addiction.
Workaholics Anonymous provides a list of 20 questions to ask to determine if you are a workaholic. If you answer yes to more than 5 of these questions, you may have a problematic relationship with work.3
- Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
- Do you get more excited about work than you do about family, hobbies, and other activities in your life?
- Do you take work with you to bed at night? On the weekends? On vacation?
- Do you believe it’s okay to work long hours as long as you love what you are doing?
- Have your long hours at work negatively impacted your family or other close relationships in your life?
- Do you work during meals?
- Do you become irritated when people ask you to stop working and do something else?
- Do you get impatient with people who have different priorities other than work?
Other researchers and behavioral health professionals have outlined 10 warning signs to help clinicians recognize work addiction, including:2
- Need for control.
- Work binges.
- Need to stay busy or hurried.
- Relationship difficulties.
- Impatience and irritability.
- Memory loss due to exhaustion or mental preoccupation with work.
- Difficulty relaxing and enjoying yourself.
Workaholism develops out of a combination of social and cultural influences, family characteristics, personality traits, and internal and external stressors. While there is no single cause, there are certain risk factors that may make a person more likely to develop workaholism, such as:2
- A competitive work environment.
- Strong desire for success; correlating success with self-worth.
- A stressful childhood.
- An achievement-oriented personality.
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- High-energy personality.
- Behavioral reinforcements (company bonuses, overtime pay, an environment that promotes overwork, praise).
- Workaholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Welcome to Workaholics Anonymous.
- Sussman, S. (2013). Workaholism: A Review. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 6(1): 4120.
- Workaholics Anonymous (2006). The Twenty Questions: How Do I Know if I’m a Workaholic?