Is Being a Workaholic Really “A Harmless Addiction”?

tired man on desk with paper stuck in eyes

Modern life stops for no one. Striking for a healthy work-life balance is a dream that many people simply never get to achieve.

Thanks to (or rather because of) mass consumerism, fuelled nowadays by social media, a lot more focus is now placed on professional success.

If you want to go on that holiday to Thailand, buy the latest iPhone or eat in the hottest restaurant in town, you need disposable income – and a lot of it.

And how do you get that? You pick up all the extra shifts that are available to you… you push hard to impress your superiors to get that promotion… or you work all the hours necessary to meet your targets and get that bonus.

Individuals now feel under pressure to achieve continuous success in the workplace, especially as they are forced to compare their success, or lack of it, to others on Facebook or Instagram.

As a result, the number of people experiencing work addiction has been increasing sharply.

How can being addicted to work be a bad thing?

In almost every culture worldwide, devoting yourself to your work is considered something positive. Likewise, those who are committed to their career are often those who are most highly valued in the business environment. They also tend to accumulate the most wealth. 

This is why ‘workaholism’ is often called a ‘harmless’ addiction. However, that certainly is not the case.

The dangers of a long-term work addiction

Most work addicts are able to achieve a great deal of professional success. However, that’s not to say that it is free from consequences.

Over a prolonged period of time, an addiction to work can be dangerous, producing a number of sometimes very serious consequences.

  • Drug or alcohol dependence. If work stops providing any satisfaction at all, this can lead to a pursuit of quick fixes.
  • Sleep deprivation. Operating under continuous pressure leads to an increased level of cortisol in the body. High levels of this “stress hormone” result in difficulty sleeping and, with time, sleep deprivation.
  • Biochemical imbalances in the brain. A lack of good sleep can cause imbalances which can produce increased mood swings, anxiety and depression, as well as problems with concentration and memory.
  • Deterioration of relationships. Because they find it difficult to switch off from work, workaholics tend to progressively neglect relationships, interests and passions.
  • Cardiovascular problems. Living in constant state of stress puts strain on the heart, meaning that workaholics are much more likely to experience heart attacks, arterial hypertension, cerebral haemorrhage, cardiac failure and arteriosclerosis.

However, the biggest and perhaps most common consequence of work addiction is burnout.

What is burnout and what causes it?

Burnout is a condition commonly experienced by top executives and people who work in high-pressure environments. These include lawyers, investors, business owners and medical practitioners.

Classified as an anxiety disorder, burnout is caused by the body’s response to long-term, unresolved stress.

The primary symptoms associated with burnout include:

  • Exhaustion or complete loss of energy.
  • An inability to focus and complete tasks.
  • Increased cynicism and a loss of enthusiasm for work-related tasks.
  • A loss of confidence and/or self-belief.
  • Reduced job performance.
  • Stomach aches, intestinal problems and recurring headaches. 

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight; the main cause is the body’s inability to tolerate high-stress levels over prolonged periods of time.

It can affect anyone at any time and it’s often difficult to spot the symptoms until the stress becomes intolerable.

Who is most susceptible to work addiction?

Whether or not you become a workaholic is often closely related to your personality structure. For example, people who are perfectionists or those who exhibit compulsive behaviors impose very high demands on themselves. For this reason, they are much more susceptible to work addiction.

However, there are other factors which can play a role.

  • Substance abuse. Many people experiencing stress turn to alcohol or drugs as means of a coping strategy to keep them performing optimally. However, these coping mechanisms develop into a cycle of substance abuse in the long term which adds considerable stress on an already-stressed body.
  • Existing health conditions. Pre-existing physical or mental health issues can amplify an individual’s inability to cope with stressful situations.
  • Lifestyle. Putting work first means that you’re not taking time out for self-care, social contact or relaxation. Your mental and physical health is compromised as a result.

How can you identify work addiction? Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of being a workaholic have a lot in common with almost all addictions. 

A work addiction often manifests itself as:

  • A constant inner compulsion to work or carry out work-related tasks.
  • A difficulty controlling the time spent on and the number of work-related activities.
  • An uneasy feeling (anxiety or agitation) when trying to stop or cut down on work.
  • An obsessive focus that is to the detriment of family life, as well as physical and mental health.

Inevitably, the above often results in a vicious circle of spending even more time at work to try to counter the symptoms. Absolutely not a “harmless addiction”…

Treating work addiction

One of the biggest hurdles for workaholics to overcome is accepting that they need help.

Even if they start to pay a high price for their over-commitment and their health suffers, seeking help is never a priority.

This is normally because they have a professional business profile and image that they have to maintain but also because they believe that they can’t afford to take a break for treatment.

However, if you or someone you know is experiencing a work addiction, it’s best to seek professional help.

Like most other addictions, the range of psychotherapeutic techniques for work addiction includes cognitive therapy, biomolecular restoration, transcranial magnetic stimulation and family therapy. These can all help to alter patterns of thinking, destructive behaviors and their effects.

Promoting new stress relief habits is also necessary to strike up a new and healthy balance between work and relationships, passions and interests. This can be achieved with massage, meditation, yoga, acupuncture and other complementary therapies.

Start your recovery now at Tikvah Lake

Free yourself from the shackles of work addiction. At Tikvah Lake, we are specialists in helping people living with addiction and related co-occurring disorders.

Our residential programs put you in a safe, scenic resort surrounded by nature and supportive professionals. 

Our goal is to reach you where you are. We work with you, embrace your experiences and set you on the path to recovery with the right tools in place. If you would like to learn more about how we treat work addiction, burnout and more, please contact us today.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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