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Addiction to Work (Workaholism)

Work addiction is more than just working too much. Find out about workaholism and what types of people develop an addiction to work.

Comprehensive information on work addiction, styles of the workaholic, how to tell if you're a workaholic and treatment for addiction to work.

Addiction to work or the term "Workaholism" isn't any kind of official mental illness listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). It's not the same as working hard or putting in long hours at work, according to Bryan Robinson, PhD, author of "Chained to the Desk" and other books on workaholism. Instead, it's a term that describes a person's obsession with work; so all-consuming that it prevents the workaholic from maintaining healthy relationships, outside interests, or even taking measures to protect their own health.

Workaholism is More Than Just Working Too Much

Robinson, a leading researcher on workaholism, describes some of the differences between simply "working too much" or being a hard worker and workaholic in his book:

Hard workers experience their work as a necessary and, at times, fulfilling obligation.

Workaholics see their work as a place of safety from the unpredictableness of life and distance from unwanted feelings and/or commitments.

Hard workers know when to set limits on their work in order to be fully available and present for their family, friends, and to be able to participate in play.

Workaholics allow their work to take top billing over all other areas of their life. Commitments to family, friends, and their children are often made and then broken to meet work demands.

Workaholics get an adrenalin rush from meeting impossible demands.

Hard workers do not.

Hard workers can turn off their work appetite.

Workaholics (work addicts) cannot Not Work. They remain preoccupied with work even if they are playing golf with friends or attending their children's sporting events. The mind of the workaholic continues to grind away about work issues/problems to be fixed.

Find more information on Workaholic Symptoms.

Types of People Who Develop An Addiction to Work

Research shows that the seeds of workaholism are often planted in childhood, resulting in low self-esteem that carries into adulthood.

According to Robinson, many workaholics are the children of alcoholics or come from some other type of dysfunctional family, and work addiction is an attempt to control a situation that is not controllable. "Or," says Robinson, "they tend to be products of what I call 'looking good families' whose parents tend to be perfectionists and expect unreasonable success from their kids. These children grow up thinking that nothing is ever good enough. Some just throw in the towel, but others say, 'I'm going to show I'm the best in everything so my parents approve of me.'"

The problem is, perfection is unattainable, whether you're a kid or a successful professional.

"Anyone who carries a mandate for perfection is susceptible to workaholism because it creates a situation where the person never gets to cross the finish line, because it keeps moving farther out," says Tuck T. Saul, PhD, a psychotherapist in Columbus, Ohio, who frequently counsels workaholics.

Take our Workaholic Quiz.

Sources:

  • Chained to the Desk by Bryan Robinson, Family Therapy Networker, July/Aug., 2000.

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next: Workaholic Definition: The Meaning of Workaholic
~ all work addiction articles
~ all articles on addictions

Last Updated: 21 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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