Work Addiction: Causes, Effects & Treatment Options

How to Recognize & Treat Work Addiction

In our society, being a hard worker is considered an asset. Not only do we give shout-outs to colleagues who burn the midnight oil or put in overtime, but they are also often the ones who are rewarded with promotions and bonuses. While all of us have had the experience of working ourselves hard, most of us can also find time to relax and de-stress. However, this is different for those with work addiction.

Work addiction is synonymous with being a workaholic. A workaholic is an individual who works and works and works without tiring. Even if the work isn’t necessary, they will continue to work. Not only does this cause problems for the work addict, but it can also strain everyone in their life. This is one of the reasons work addiction is seen as such a serious issue.

What Causes Work Addiction?

Many factors can combine to create an environment of work addiction.

  • A desire to be seen as more intelligent or more competent. Ironically, this often stems from a lack of self-confidence.
  • A belief that self-worth is attached to work. This can come from many sources, such as a parent who instilled that hard work is the only thing that matters in life.
  • A need for constant attention. Work addicts do get quite a bit of attention, especially from supervisors who may take advantage of having a workaholic on their teams.
  • A fear of losing money. Some work addicts come from families where poverty is common. Even if they are now comfortable and earning enough, they always feel like they could lose it all in an instant.
  • A fear of change. The workaholic knows how to do their job, but they may not be as accomplished elsewhere. Therefore, the work addict never changes gears or tries anything new.
  • Worry of embarrassment. Many workaholics are perfectionists who never want to be seen as wrong. They worry they’ll make a mistake and embarrass themselves, so they work extra hard on everything they do.
  • Desire to avoid dealing with circumstances. Workaholics may have unfavorable circumstances brewing at home. Rather than deal with emotions or problems, they work all the time. It’s a convenient excuse for not facing reality.
  • Loneliness and fear of solitude. The workaholic may see work as a companion or a substitute for human interactions. They may have no relationships, so they may fear being alone in a house without knowing what to do.

Of course, there’s another snag. Some work addicts honestly love their work! They simply like to work all the time, to the detriment of everything else. Even so, they may not realize that they’re setting themselves up for burnout.

Who is at Risk for Work Addiction?

Are you starting to see a pattern? Do you feel like you could be at risk and need help with work addiction? Check the following risk factors to see if they pertain to your situation:

  • You have suffered from addictions before. You may still be addicted to drugs, nicotine, alcohol, food, or other substances or behavior.
  • You cannot turn off work. It’s all you can think about, even when you aren’t on the job.
  • You are a perfectionist. You want everything to be correct, including the work of you and your colleagues. You often redo coworkers’ assignments to ensure they are perfect and up to your standards.
  • You like being known as a workaholic. This is a badge you wear proudly because you believe it sets you apart from everyone else.
  • You do everything in an all-or-nothing capacity. You believe that if you do something, you must always do it to the max.
  • You come from a family of workaholics. Your mother and/or father always worked around the clock, and that’s where your comfort zone lies. You can’t imagine being home for your kids’ soccer tournaments or watching the evening news with your family.
  • You like overcoming obstacles such as needing sleep or wanting to stop working. This makes you feel powerful and alive. It gives you a feeling of pleasure to know you’re pushing yourself harder than anyone else.

Do these risk factors sound familiar to you? If so, get help for your work addiction. Workaholics are under tremendous stress and strain, which can take a toll over time. Reach out to a therapist who has experience dealing with people who are work addicts.

What Are the Signs of Work Addiction?

Whether you have a work addiction or someone you care about could be a work addict, these are the commonly-seen signs and symptoms exhibited by work addicts:

  • There is no delineation between your work and home life. The two are basically the same, with work being more important.
  • Vacations are always working vacations. There is no break for you.
  • You usually stay at the office later than all your colleagues, and you may return to the office after hours to continue working.
  • Close family members and friends complain about how often you work.
  • You have lost relationships, possibly marriages, because of your workaholism.
  • You have strained relationships with colleagues who are not work addicts and see your addictive behavior as a threat.
  • You cannot take a break from work without feeling like a failure.
  • The thought of being alone and not having work to do is devastating and scary.
  • You constantly fear you’re not working hard enough to keep up.
  • You worry you’ll lose your job if you stop working.
  • You have been diagnosed with another addiction.
  • You have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
  • You would do anything for your work, including losing all contact with your friends and family.
  • You have neglected your health for your job, including not attending medical appointments or staying in shape.
  • You dream about work.
  • You are unable to delegate any work to others.
  • You frequently suffer from insomnia, headaches, and stomach problems.

Rather than continuing to suffer through work addiction, it’s time to find someone who understands. Don’t try to solve an issue with work addiction alone. It’s much better to get into counseling.

The Effects of Untreated Work Addiction

What happens if work addiction is allowed to continue without any treatment? Several possibilities can occur:

  • You may find yourself without any support network, as friends and family tire of how often you work.
  • You may experience physical problems associated with high-stress levels, such as obesity and hypertension.
  • You may be unable to sleep at night.
  • You may begin to have anxiety attacks when you aren’t working.
  • You may lose your job because you cannot relate to your peers or supervisor.

These are all serious factors related to untreated work addiction, but you can treat your work addiction with assistance from the pros.

How Work Addiction is Treated

Experts who treat work addicts usually take a step-by-step approach to help the addict step back and begin to balance work and life better. Because it’s not feasible for most people to stop working altogether, this minimal, conservative approach works best. However, if you can altogether leave your job (or you’ve lost your job because of workaholism), you may be in a position to stop working altogether.

Some of the steps involved in treating work addiction include the following:

  • Engaging in therapy – This may be one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or a combination of the two. Therapy helps workaholics understand why they feel compelled to work long hours despite the adverse effects. Meeting with a counselor may occur daily or almost daily for the initial phase of work addiction treatment.
  • Journaling – In therapy, the workaholic will likely be given directives to write down their feelings and work addiction triggers. By doing so, it will be possible to see patterns that have developed over time. For example, a trigger for workaholism may be seeing the monthly mortgage bill. At the sight of the bill, the addict could become anxious and worry that they will not be able to pay next month. A way to make this less impactful is to have someone else pay the bills.
  • Delegating – Workaholics have trouble delegating any work to their coworkers. But by forcing themselves to start doing so, they can find incredible freedom from their work addiction. This can be very challenging at first, but it is usually a good start toward freedom from workaholism.
  • Setting Boundaries – Having clear boundaries between home and the office is essential. A workaholic may not naturally be able to set these boundaries, so treatment can help achieve this goal. The boundary might be literal or figurative.
  • Stopping Work – Workaholics tend to live in a race against the clock, but they can use the clock to their advantage when in treatment. By stopping work at the same time each day (and starting at the same time), they have a finite number of hours to finish their work. When their time is up, they must wait until the next day to start again. This is not without its stumbling blocks, especially when deadlines creep up, but it is a powerful way to establish a work-life balance.
  • Planning the Day – One of the problems work addicts have is that they can’t think beyond the job. In therapy, many learn to plan their days. This includes adding time for family interests, going to the gym, shopping, reading, watching television, cooking, etc. Having a plan that’s simple to follow can lead to better choices when it comes to handling workaholism tendencies.
  • Saying No to Assignments – A work addict may have to begin saying no to supervisors accustomed to giving them copious amounts of work. Saying no can be difficult, and supervisors may not understand. This can lead to friction, but it is necessary for the long-term health of the work addict.
  • Going to Meetings – Like alcoholics, workaholics may find comfort in attending regular group meetings with people who are also struggling with work addiction. Finding a meeting location in your region may be difficult, but there are work addict therapy groups online. One caveat to remember: Don’t start sharing war stories or techniques. This can lead to relapse.

What to Do if You Relapse into Work Addiction

Relapse is not uncommon among work addicts. Many work addicts will have to endure relapses several times before entirely moving past their work addictions. Thus, relapsing should not be treated as an unexpected eventuality.

If you are in treatment for your work addiction and you feel yourself slipping back into your old habits, it’s time to take immediate steps:

  • Contact your therapist and schedule an appointment.
  • Start journaling again if you stopped.
  • Start planning out every day.
  • Permit yourself to forgive yourself for relapsing.
  • Apologize to your family (if applicable) for your relapse and ask for their help.

This will help you avoid further relapses and keep you grounded.

How to Pay for Work Addiction Treatment

If your work addiction is related to fears about money, you may have trouble justifying the need for therapy, especially if you have to pay out of pocket. Yet it’s essential you begin to look past the initial investment and start to think about the benefits of getting treatment:

  • You’ll be able to have stronger relationships with the people in your life, including your children. This can go a long way toward ensuring you don’t lose the connection with your spouse or kids. Many workaholics are seen by their sons and daughters as unloving parents. Don’t allow this to happen to you.
  • You’ll be healthier overall. If you have time away from the office, you’ll be able to eat better and get more sleep. Not only is this good for you physically, but you’ll also be better supported emotionally.
  • You’ll have time to try new hobbies or take up a sport. Have you wanted to try cycling, weightlifting, or just walking? Now you’ll actually be able to try something you’ve been putting off because you’ve been too busy at work.
  • You won’t feel as anxious all the time. Most work addicts live under 24/7 stressors (usually of their own making). Instead of dealing with high anxiety levels, you can finally learn how to relax.
  • You can enjoy your vacations. Holidays and trips should be a time to explore locales and take a break from your hectic schedule. By turning off your devices and leaving work at the office, you’ll discover pleasures you never realized existed.

Many insurance plans now cover therapy, whether related to work addiction or not. Even if your insurance only covers a part of your therapy sessions, it’s still a great advantage and will save you some money as you get help with being a workaholic. Remember, you cannot put a price on your mental and physical health. If you’re a work addict, you deserve to learn just how amazing life can be when you’re not constantly saddled by work-related items.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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