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What is a Workaholic?

We’ve all heard the expression, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” However, the sad truth of the matter is that today’s society places a premium on people who work long hours. This typically translates into being focused and industrious when it comes to all things work-related.

Usually, this isn’t a problem as long as one’s professional life is balanced with a rewarding personal life. However, if your work starts to take on increasingly larger and larger portions of your time until it leaves room for little else, than you may have a work addiction problem.

One of the problems with workaholism is that it is difficult to diagnose, and many people don’t view it as a problem. Unlike drug use or gambling, it can be more difficult to recognize.

Nevertheless, workaholism can be just as destructive, and it can ruin both professional and personal relationships, negatively affect health, and even decrease overall work performance. While there are many ways to treat workaholism, support from family, friends, and colleagues is also necessary to ensure successful recovery from this insidious addiction.

What Is Workaholism?

Workaholic SymptomsWorkaholism can be defined as a toxic, obsessive-compulsive drive to do constant work. People who struggle with work addiction generally have little or no social lives or hobbies, and generally have neither the time nor desire for things other than work. This problem can be caused by a number of things; it may stem from low self-esteem or a dysfunctional childhood home — but every case is unique.

Workaholics often use work as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety. Unfortunately, constantly working only makes anxiety worse over time.

Compulsive working is not caused by workplace and employer pressures. Rather, workaholics have an internal compulsion to work long hours, and this desire is usually fueled by internal anxiety, a desire for perfection, or fear of the future. These perceptions and worries are generally not consistent with the reality of the situation.

Just as with other forms of addiction such as alcoholism, workaholism is a disease that negatively affects a person physiologically, psychologically and socially. To a certain degree, workaholism is also similar to other forms of addiction because it is fueled by distorted thinking, anxiety, and, often, unwarranted shame.

It’s easy to joke about compulsive working, but the problem can truly be devastating. While the workaholic struggles with long hours, exhaustion, and deteriorating health, his or her family grows distant, angry, and lonely. Work productivity begins to suffer over time. Exhaustion leads to mistakes that may cost business and impact company reputation. Over time, the workaholic may become tempted to use drugs or alcohol to maintain this lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many cultures do not recognize workaholism as a problem. This is because many societies encourage people to work hard, take on debt, and buy more things — which makes it more difficult to identify workaholism where it exists.

Many cultures fail to provide the infrastructure and support necessary to treat this condition. Moreover, female and minority workaholics are often overlooked. Workaholism can affect men and women in various industries across the board. This makes being able to properly identify workaholics that much more important.

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Symptoms of Workaholism

Do any of these symptoms of workaholism sound familiar to you?
  • Constantly thinking about and talking about work
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, increased illnesses, and indigestion that is due to the stress of overworking
  • Behavioral signs such as mood swings, angry outbursts, exhaustion, forgetfulness, boredom, negative thinking, and difficulty concentrating
  • Revolving life around work to the exclusion of loved ones, hobbies, and balanced personal life

Of course, just because some of these symptoms may apply to you doesn’t automatically mean you are addicted to work. It is never a good idea to self-diagnose, so you may want to seek advice from a professional. Before jumping the gun, however, here are some questions you should consider:

  • Does the thought of working sound more pressing, exciting, or important than the thought of spending time with your loved ones or otherwise relaxing?
  • Do you deliberately spend increasingly longer hours working?
  • Do you have other interests or hobbies that take up your time when you are not working?
  • Are you unsympathetic toward people that have other priorities besides work?
  • Do you get anxious whenever you are not working?
  • Have you used coffee, drugs, or alcohol to maintain your work and sleep schedule?

If your answer to many of these questions is yes, then you may be a workaholic.

Recognizing and acknowledging that you have a problem is absolutely necessary in order to break free of your addiction; however, you may not be able to deal with it alone. After you realize that you have a problem, your next challenge is to accept help from professionals and support groups. You could try self-help techniques initially, but try to remain open to accepting help when necessary.

The Problem with Working Too Much

Contrary to popular belief, workaholics actually cause more harm than good to their companies. This is partly because they have a tendency to alienate the people around them. This is particularly difficult in a workplace that recognizes the importance of teamwork and interpersonal skills. Not only do workaholics have a tendency to take too much work, they often tend to anxiously (or angrily) micromanage. Thus, workaholics generally have strained relationships with their coworkers or employees. They also make lousy bosses.

Workplace confrontationThis means workaholics tend to negatively affect the overall morale of the workplace. Workaholics are also detrimental to creativity and may create high turnover among their subordinates.

Because of their preoccupation with work, being a workaholic is devastating to one’s personal life. An unhealthy obsession with work means workaholics find little time for hobbies, family and friends.

The children and spouses of workaholics are often neglected. This can negatively affect their children’s psychological development, and may result in separation or divorce from their spouses.

Workaholics may also have an obsessive desire to “set goals and meet them.” This makes it very difficult for workaholics to relax and do nothing because such relaxation often generates feelings of guilt and reinforces feelings of inadequacy in people who struggle with this condition.

Workaholism and Your Health

Compulsive working also sets the stage for health problems due to factors such as:
  • Too much stress
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Heart disease due to sitting at a desk, sedentary too long
  • High cholesterol due to eating unhealthy meals on the go
  • Digestive distress due to ignoring healthy eating

These factors may not cause serious problem in the short term, but over time their compounded and cumulative effect elevate the risk of developing health problems such as hypertension and possible hormone imbalances.

Treating and Managing Work Addiction

After you have correctly identified work addiction, the next step is to determine how to best manage the condition. Although the specifics of treating work addiction may vary, there are ways to successfully treat and manage this condition. Most treatment plans generally involve determining the underlying causes of workaholism.

What triggers the workaholic’s need to overwork despite the detrimental physical and social effects of working too much? Are the negative feelings associated with working less rooted in emotional or psychological trauma? Were the workaholic’s parents also workaholics? Did the problem begin at a time of great financial strain? Understanding the roots of the problem may offer insight into how to best proceed with treating it.

It is also important to treat any underlying conditions behind the issue, such as depression or anxiety. Any co-occurring issues, such as substance use disorders (substance abuse or addiction) should also be treated. Other ways of treating work addiction involve changing the way the recovering workaholic relates to his or her coworkers and subordinates.

This means learning how to delegate, scaling back working hours to more reasonable amounts, and developing the capacity to disconnect from work when on vacation or not at the office. One way of doing this is to find a hobby and make a healthy and reasonable amount of time for that.

Reconnecting with family and friends is also an important part of the recovery process. This may involve family counseling so that the entire family system can recover together.

A quality treatment team can help a recovering workaholic with much needed support. Of course, starting the whole process may require the intervention of family and friends. This is particularly important if the workaholic is either not aware of the problem, or unable to do anything to treat their addiction.

Is an Intervention Needed?

Generally speaking, an intervention may be defined as a meticulously planned process wherein the family, friends, and possibly colleagues of the addicted person confront that person the work issue in the hopes of compelling that person to seek treatment.

While the specifics may vary on a case-to-case basis, an intervention usually contains the following elements:
  • Loved ones and friends give specific examples of the negative (and destructive) behavior caused by, or associated with the addiction.
  • Loved ones and friends discuss the impact of that behavior on the addicted person as well as their family, friends and colleagues.
  • Loved ones present a previously discussed plan for treatment that contains clear steps, objectives and particular guidelines.
  • The interventionist or other participants carefully outline the consequences should the addicted person refuse to accept the proposed treatment.

Although we typically associate interventions with other forms of addiction such as alcohol abuse or drug abuse, it is sometimes also necessary in cases of workaholism. In fact, because being addicted to work is not often recognized as particularly harmful, it is perhaps even more important to consider an intervention for this problem.

This is especially important because people who struggle with work addiction may not even be aware of their problem. The advantage of an intervention is that it gives an opportunity for the people involved to present a structured means of resolving the problem before it becomes worse.

It is a good idea to consult with a professional interventionist such as an addiction expert, psychologist, or mental health counselor before conducting an intervention. Every intervention must be custom-tailored to the person because factors such as mental health history, anger issues, the addition of drugs or alcohol, financial concerns, or family complications come into play.

Professional involvement depends largely on the overall severity of the situation and the wishes of the family. However, professionally run interventions tend to go more smoothly than those operated only by family and loved ones.


Hope for Healing Workaholism

Workaholism is an illness. Sociological, environmental and psychological factors all play a part in influencing and potentially enabling work addiction. Despite this, work addiction can be treated. It is possible to overcome work addiction and not suffer financially.

It is possible to live a better, more profitable life without undue strain on yourself, your family, and your health. The experienced, qualified team at The Canyon can help. Our exclusive treatment facility offers luxury accommodations and dedicated staff to help you or someone you love become more clear, more productive, and healthier.

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