What is Workaholsim?

Workaholism (not listed in the DSM-IV) is sometimes called "the respectable addiction." After all, our society lauds those who work hard, climb the corporate ladder, and have many successes at the workplace. Workaholism is more than simply working hard, putting in long hours or spending extra time working.

Instead, workaholism describes a person's obsession with work. This obsession is so all-consuming that it prevents a workaholic from maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, outside interests, or even caring for themselves.

Workaholism is defined as a person whose need to work has become so excessive that it disturbs physical health, personal happiness, interpersonal relationships or the ability to function socially.

What's The Difference Between Workaholism and Working Hard?

While at first glance, it may seem as though workaholism is very similar to being a hard worker. This is, unfortunately, untrue. There are many differences between working too much and being a hard worker:

Workaholics get a surge of adrenaline from meeting impossible demands.

Hard workers don't.

Hard workers believe that work is necessary, and often filling an obligation.

A Workaholic sees his or her work as a place of safety from the unpredictability of life and distance themselves from unwanted feelings and/or commitments.

Hard workers know how to set limits upon their work in order to be present for family, friends and leisure time.

Workaholics allow work to take top priority over all other areas of life. Any commitments to friends, family and children are often broken to meet work demands.

Work addicts cannot NOT work. They will be preoccupied with work, even while pursuing leisure activities (family parties, hanging out with friends). A workaholics mind is always grinding away about work problems and how to solve them.

How Do I Know If I'm A Workaholic? (as adapted from Workaholics Anonymous):

1) Do you get more excited about work than your family or anything else?

2) Are there times you can charge through your work and others that you can't?

3) Do you take work to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

4) Is work the activity you like to talk about most?

5) Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

6) Do you turn hobbies into money-making ventures?

7) Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?

8) Have your family and friends given up on expecting you on time?

9) Do you take on extra work in the fear that it won't otherwise get done?

10) Do you underestimate the amount of time a project will take, then rush to finish it?

11) Do you think it's okay to work long hours if you love what you do?

12) Do you get impatient with people who have priorities other than work?

13) Are you afraid that if you don't work hard, you will lose your job or be a failure?

14) Is the future a constant worry - even if things are going well?

15) Do you do things energetically and competitively - including play?

16) Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop working to do something else?

17) Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

18) Do you think about work while driving, going to sleep, or when others are talking?

19) Do you work or read during meals?

20) Do you believe that more money will solve all the problems in your life?

If you've answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be a workaholic. You are NOT alone.

The Problem for Workaholics (as adapted from Workaholics Anonymous):

1) It is very hard for us to relax. We often, if not always, feel the need to complete just a few more tasks before we can feel good enough about ourselves to allow us to relax. When we complete these tasks, we discover there are even more and more tasks to be done. These desires result in frantic, compulsive working. We are powerless to control this pattern.

2) We are so used to doing what is expected of us that we are often unable to know what it is we want and need to do for ourselves.

3) We often feel we must complete certain tasks - even though we don't want to - and we are scared to stop.

4) We often feel resentments about having to complete tasks when we'd rather relax or play. Then we procrastinate, wallowing in self-pity and self-judgement."

5) Our self-esteem is based largely upon our perceptions of how others judge our performance at work and other areas of our lives.

6) We often feel we are either the most intelligent, capable people we know or the most incapable and worthless people we know.

7) It's hard to see ourselves honestly and accept who we really are.

8) We often betray ourselves by giving into the demands of those we see as being in authority.

9) We live in mini-crisis mode, often using this to escape our true emotions.

10) We rarely experience true serenity.

11) We have an obsessive desire to understand everything in our lives, including our every emotion. We cannot allow ourselves to experience emotions we don't understand, fearing loss of control.

12) We have an underlying fear that if we give up control and allow our emotions to surface, we will become lunatics for the rest of our lives.

13) We judge ourselves by our accomplishments, hence the illusion that we must always be accomplishing something in order to feel good about ourselves.

14) We cannot sit down and just be.

15) We often go on intense work binges under the illusion that we need praise from our fellow workers to feel okay.

16) We suffer the illusion that people will like us more if we appear more competent than we are.

17) When we are praised by others, we often discount ourselves as unworthy of their praise.

18) We schedule ourselves for more than we can handle, believing people will like us more if we do more, faster.

19) We are often dishonest about our past experiences and present capabilities, not mentioning our failures and exaggerating our successes. We believe people won't like us just as we are.

20) We hurt inside.

Who Becomes A Workaholic?

It's been shown that becoming a workaholic is deeply ingrained from childhood.

Many workaholics are the adult children of alcoholics who turn to work as an attempt to control a familial situation that is not controllable.

Other workaholics are raised by perfectionist parents, who have unrealistic expectations placed upon them from childhood onward. These children grow up to believe that nothing is good enough... or that they will finally gain parental approval by working harder and harder.

Anyone who has a propensity toward perfectionism may be susceptible to becoming a workaholic.

What Are The Signs of A Workaholic?

A workaholic works hard AND sets impossibly high standards for themselves. They have a sense of being not good enough.

The workaholic has a need to please others. This driving force prevents the workaholic from noting the impact of overworking upon his health and well-being.

A workaholic has a strong need to control other people and situations and has a hard time delegating any responsibilities, believing that, "If I want it done well, I have to do it myself."

The life of a workaholic is sorely out of balance.

A workaholic rarely gives himself time to develop or enjoy existing personal relationships.

A workaholic has a hard time taking care of him or herself, so health problems generally become debilitating before they are properly handled.

The workaholic feels most alive when moving from task to task, deadline to deadline, in the middle of a big project or moving between projects.

The adrenaline rush generated by dealing with a crisis may become an addiction for the workaholic.

A workaholic uses work to escape from any difficult feelings. During this process, the workaholic loses awareness of his or her wants and needs.

The family of a workaholic know that they are a lower priority to the workaholic, which erodes family relationships quickly.

Types of Workaholics:

Not all workaholics are created equal. Here are the different types of workaholics:

The Bulimic Workaholic - these workaholics feel that a job must be perfectly completed or not at all. Bulimic workaholics often cannot get started on a project, then rush to complete it by the deadline - often so frantically that they work to the point of exhaustion. The results are almost always sloppy.

The Relentless Workaholic - these workaholics are adrenaline junkies who take on more work than can possibly be completed. In an effort to juggle too many balls, relentless workaholics work too fast or are too busy for careful, thoughtful results.

The Attention-Deficit Workaholic - these types of workaholics start with a flurry of activity but fail to finish a project. Often because they've lost interest in the project. Attention-deficit workaholics often adore the brainstorming parts of the project but become easily bored by the details or follow-through.

The Savoring Workaholics - these workaholics are slow, methodical and overly scrupulous about their projects. Savoring workaholics often have trouble letting go of projects and do not work well with others. Savoring workaholics are consummate perfectionists, often missing their deadlines as their work is not yet "perfect."

Treatment of A Work Addiction:

Confronting a workaholic about his or her problem will usually be met with denial. Therefore, family, friends and coworkers may need to stage an intervention to show the workaholic the effects of the workaholic's behavior upon them.  They may enlist a professional therapist, used to working with workaholics, who can assess the workaholic and assist with treatment planning. Some workaholics have found much help in an inpatient rehab program for addiction.

Therapy for a workaholic may explore childhood experience, as these rigid beliefs are formed in childhood. As a child, a work addict has often undertaken parental responsibilities to manage the chaotic family life or take refuge from the emotional storms, physical, or sexual abuse.

One of the biggest goals in treatment of a workaholic is establishing the right of the workaholic to pay attention to his or her own needs, health and well-being, rather than constantly responding to the needs of others. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be used to help examine the rigid beliefs that fuel overworking.

The goal of treatment for a workaholic is to challenge the core belief of "I am only lovable if I succeed," and replace it with "I am lovable for who I am, not what I accomplish."

How Can One Fully Treat Work Addiction?

It's clear that abstaining from work entirely isn't an effective treatment for a work addict, in the same way abstaining from alcohol would be a proper mode of treatment for an alcoholic.

To treat work addiction, a workaholic must develop a plan of moderation that introduces balance into life, including a schedule that allows time for physical health, emotional well-being, spiritual practices, and social support.

Clear boundaries between work and home are crucial parts of recovery from a work addiction. Time must be scheduled for self-care, friendships and play. In addition, each workaholic should make time each day for a quiet period for prayer or meditation, listening to music, or engaging in another non-productive activity.

Meetings of Workaholics Anonymous - a twelve-step program - can help provide support and tools for recovery. Medications may be prescribed by a doctor to treat any mood disorders such as depression or ADHD, which run comorbid with workaholism.

Treatment for work addiction can provide the time and space for family, loved ones, and coworkers to examine themselves and possibly participate in group therapy sessions to reflect upon ways they may be enabling the workaholic to overwork. Through this process, the people surrounding the workaholic can better support the workaholic through his or her recovery.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:


Adult Children of Alcoholics


Additional Resources for Workaholics:

Workaholics Anonymous: 12- step fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problems and help others to recover from workaholism.

Workaholics Anonymous [article] - an article in Forbes magazine about living as a workaholic. Includes a quiz for potential workaholics.