What It Is
While the idea of work addiction may seem like an exaggerated way to describe an overambitious person, work addiction is a real mental health condition recognized by medical professionals. Like any other addictive behavior, work addiction is the inability to stop working. It often stems from a compulsive need to achieve financial or professional status or to escape emotional stressors the individual cannot cope with when not working. Work addiction is often perpetuated by significant career success and is common is individuals who have perfectionist tendencies. Much like a drug addict, a work addict achieves a “high” from engaging in work and is unable to stop his behavior, despite negative consequences to his personal life or mental health.
Symptoms and Signs
In a culture where hard work is praised and putting in overtime is often expected, it can be difficult to recognize work addiction. An addict may simply appear committed to his job or the success of his projects. However, a work addict engages in compulsive work so as to avoid other aspects of his life, particularly troubling emotional issues or personal crises. Symptoms of a work addiction might include:
- Long hours at the office, even when not necessary
- Losing sleep to engage in work projects or finish tasks
- Obsession with work-related success
- Intense fear of failure at work
- Paranoia about work-related performance
- Disintegration of personal relationships because of work
- Defensive attitude toward others about behavior
- Use of work as a way to avoid human relationships, or life crises like death, divorce, or financial trouble
A work addict may not need the same kind of treatment as a drug addict, but it’s possible the person will require an inpatient or outpatient addiction rehabilitation program in order to initially manage the compulsive behavior. Other treatment options include 12-step recovery programs such as Work Addicts Anonymous (WAA), individual cognitive behavioral therapy, or classes on work-life balance and organization. In some cases, a work addiction can result from a coexisting mental health condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder. It may be helpful for a work addict to be assessed by a mental health professional to see if another condition may be present. It’s also possible that a work addict may need medication to help cope with impulse control, anxiety, or stress.
Since work addicts often perform the addictive behavior to avoid feelings of guilt about not working, it’s important for the recovering addict to develop a healthy relationship with work. It may be necessary for the individual to take a hiatus from work or to consider changing careers in order to manage his addiction. As a psychosocial condition, work addiction is usually much easier to “cure” than something like a substance abuse addiction. Lifestyle changes, practicing balance, and avoiding stressors and triggers will give the work addict the best chance for success.
The following resources may be helpful in providing further information about work addiction and treatment options:
- Work Addicts Anonymous
- Workaholics Anonymous
- National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers