Workaholics: When Work Becomes an Addiction

Working hard, putting in extra time, and exerting yourself to meet the demands of a job can feel like simply meeting expectations. 

From the outside, a person with a work addiction may merely seem like a driven employee who is committed to their job, but there is a fine line between being ambitious and exhibiting signs of an addiction.

The term “workaholic” is often used to describe a person with an addiction to their work, but it is not often taken seriously. Because traits associated with work addiction are often regarded as positive, it can be difficult to identify when working hard evolves into a more problematic behavior. In general, a person who works hard can be seen as successful, ambitious, and viewed more positively by peers. For some, however, the compulsion to work can interfere with a person’s ability to maintain functional relationships, engage in healthy outlets or activities, and can make them more susceptible to physical, mental, and emotional health problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Work Addiction

Work addiction can be challenging to pinpoint. Rather than finding healthy fulfillment and enjoyment from their work, those who struggle with work addiction tend to find their jobs distressing and overwhelming.

Overworking is often driven by compulsions, such as being overly concerned with work, and a person may feel as though they have no control over how much time and energy they spend on it. Many of the themes in behaviors that are universally accepted as indicators of a work addiction can be found in those who struggle with substance and behavioral addictions as well.

work addiction

Signs of Work Addiction

Some common symptoms include:


  • Spending more time at work even when it is not needed
  • Becoming increasingly busy without increasing productivity
  • Obsessively creating more time to focus on work
  • Using work as a means of creating and maintaining self-worth
  • Using work as a means of escaping or coping with negative emotions
  • Needing to work more in order to feel fulfilled
  • Developing physical, mental, or emotional health problems related to overworking
  • Ignoring suggestions from others to cut back on the amount of work being done
  • Feeling stress or anxiety when away from work or when unable to work
  • An inability to stop working

Are You Addicted to Work?

If you suspect you have an addiction to work, you can try to identify it by simply cutting back or stopping.

Consider how this change affects how you feel; if you find that you are unable to turn the switch off and if it creates uncomfortable feelings, it may be a sign that work has become addictive to you.

Working is a part of almost everyone’s life and it may be impossible to avoid. Although it is not likely you will find treatment focused on work addiction, there are mental health treatment options and behavioral treatment approaches that can be beneficial and help a person create more balance. A person’s needs in addressing work addiction is highly individual and it is important to assess what factors have contributed to its development. In some cases, a co-occurring mental health disorder may be a significant factor that must be addressed. Similarly to co-occurring disorders with substance abuse, work may function as a means of escape or an outlet that produces a “high”. By meeting with a mental health professional, you can begin identifying problematic behaviors, recognizing your own needs, and working to develop healthy coping mechanisms that can improve your overall wellbeing.

Addiction to work can worsen over time if it is not addressed. It is not uncommon to find many people experience “burn out”, meaning they have reached a point of physical and mental exhaustion. This can lead a person to begin looking for alternative unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to manage extreme stress. In addition, working excessively can weaken a person’s immune system, increase the likelihood of illness or disease, and can cause irreparable damage to relationships.

Work addiction can be difficult to treat because working hard, receiving recognition and validation, and achieving goals can be highly motivating factors that make it difficult to break destructive cycles or behaviors. Because work is largely unavoidable, it is important to redefine your relationship with it, separating your identity and feelings of self-worth from it, and treating it as another aspect of life rather than allowing it to completely govern your existence. This requires a person to learn how to create balance. Making lifestyle changes, creating time and space for extracurricular activities, and avoiding stressors or triggers can help make work more manageable and create balance.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

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